fantasy

GOBLIN DESSERTERS, a micro-RPG about trying to not get eaten by ogres by Matthew Marchitto

I felt inspired by HONEY HEIST and CRASH PANDAS, and CriticalRole’s one-shots of the former and the latter, so I decided to go ahead and try to whip up my own micro-RPG. I had a lot of fun writing it, and hopefully it’s also fun to play. This is my first time doing something like this, so I’m sure there are plenty of flaws in it. But, I figure the only way to get better is to put it out there and see what people think. If you give it a try please do send me a message and let me know how it went!!

GOBLIN DESSERTERS

Welcome to GOBLIN DESSERTERS, a world where monsters rule and humans are at the bottom of the food chain. You are a goblin soldier on the frontlines of the century long goblin and ogre war. But you’ve had enough, what’s the point in dying for a war that never ends? You’re going to desert and find yourself a nice little haven where there’s all the human meat you can eat. But you’ve got to make it out of the frontlines first.

Creating Your Character

Name: Are you Grimgut Orgreslayer? Hexa Wolfsbane? Canker Cutthroat? Or maybe just Bob, there’s nothing wrong with Bob. Give your goblin a name!

Motive: Why are you deserting? Are you afraid of dying? A pacifist? Or a veteran who’s seen enough? Or maybe you’re just looking to settle down on a nice human farm. What’s your motive for deserting the war? And do you have an end goal?

Appearance: Goblins in GOBLIN DESSERTERS come in all shapes and sizes, whether it be scrawny, rotund, burly, sinewy or anything in-between. One thing they all have in common is green skin and big pointy ears.

Stats: You have three stats:

  • BRAWN: This is all things physical, like pushing, lifting, jumping, biting, punching, kicking, swimming, and climbing.

  • BRAINS: This is all things that require mental aptitude, that includes dexterous tinkering, discerning some clever bit of information, and being able to manipulate a conversation.

  • RESOLVE: This is your ability to resist fear. Each goblin has three fear points, when you fail a resolve check, you lose a fear point. Lose all three fear points and you become scared.

Assign one of the following numbers to each stat of your choice. 4 (this is what you’re good at), 2 (this is what you’re okay at), and 1 (this is what you’re bad at).

When you do anything in the game, you make either a BRAWN, BRAINS, or RESOLVE check. Roll a number of d6 equal to your stat. Dice that roll 1s, 2s, and 3s are failures. Dice that roll 4s, 5s, and 6s are successes.

Difficulty of Checks:

  • Normal - 1 success needed

  • Hard - 2 successes needed

  • Very Hard - 3 successes needed

Fear and being Scared

Goblins are prone to being chickenshits. You have 3 fear points. Whenever something really fucked up happens, the GM will call for a RESOLVE check, if you fail you lose 1 fear point. When you lose all your fear points you become scared, and start screaming and flailing and running, and generally having a very loud freakout.

Your goblin friends can attempt to restore a fear point to you. They can either slap the shit out of you (BRAWN check), or try to talk you out of it (BRAINS check). They make a BRAWN or BRAINS check versus your RESOLVE check, if they have more successes than you have failures, you regain a fear point, if not then you continue to have a meltdown.

Ogres want to EAT YOU

Goblins might be easy to kick around, but they’re damn tough to kill. The only way to kill a goblin is to get eaten by an ogre.

Ogres are giants that tower over goblins, and they’re also really hard to kill. Cut off a limb and it’ll still try and wobble toward you. The only way to kill an ogre and all its appendages is to crush its skull.

When an ogre grapples you, you and your goblin friends will have a series of chances (at your GM’s discretion) to break free. But if you pass the threshold of an ogre’s gaping maw, you enter last chance.

Last Chance: Once you’ve passed the toothy threshold you have one last chance to save yourself. Your friends can’t help you with this, you’re on your own. Describe what you want to do, roll whatever check the GM deems appropriate, and pray to your goblin gods. If you fail, that’s it, your goblin’s dead.

Optional Rule: If your goblin dies, then you take control of an ogre. Your ogre has 5 BRAWN, 1 BRAINS, and no RESOLVE because they cannot become scared.*

Bonus Dice

There are a few ways to gain additional bonus dice to your rolls.

  • Do something cool.

  • Use an item creatively.

  • Be especially savage.

  • Get weird.

  • Impress the GM.

Items

Your body is littered with little pouches, sacks, and hidey holes. You can carry as many items as you want. Choose three items to start with, or roll a d20 three times.

  1. Broken sword hilt: It would be nice if it had a blade, but you could still use it to bludgeon someone to death.

  2. Wooden shield: It’s really just the top third of a tree stump with a bit of rope, but it’ll get the job done.

  3. Metal armour: You’ve tied old, dented pots and pans together to make...armour?

  4. Food rations: Dried manflesh is a great post-cry pick-me-up.

  5. Ogre heart: You’ve heard this can be used with old magic, but you’re not sure how.

  6. Werewolf skull: A trophy or heirloom? Either way, it’s dang cool.

  7. Black powder: Who thought it was a good idea to trust you with explosives?

  8. Chicken: An adorable live chicken. You’ve heard that humans used to eat them, barbaric.

  9. Gyrocopter certificate: You won it in a raffle, so you’re pretty sure that means you’re a qualified pilot.

  10. Vinno homme: Delicious wine made from the finest pulped human meat. You can even taste the bone fragments.

  11. Map: A map of the surrounding area. Handy.

  12. Tinker box: A little box filled with precision tools, good for fixing gizmos and picking locks.

  13. Hungry sac: A membranous sac filled with teeth, it’ll eat anything you put inside. It’s kind of scary.

  14. Orb of annihilation: Cool name, it’s a black marble.

  15. Executioner’s axe: It’s big, mean, and sharp.

  16. Crossbow: It’s string is made of unicorn hair, and anything shot from it catches fire.

  17. Lightning rod: It’s a long metal pole.

  18. Jewelry: A handful of rings, earrings, and necklaces. Pretty.

  19. Your baby teeth: Why would you keep these?

  20. Incubus snot: Snorting this stuff gives you a hell of a high.

Special Items

Special items are unique, often magical, and usually do something cool. These are hidden throughout the world, good luck finding them!

Magic wand: Six inches of hard oak laced with pixie dust and dipped in a phoenix’s earwax. Point in a direction and hope something good happens. Roll 1d6 and see what happens from the list below.

  1. A lightning bolt shoots down from the sky.

  2. Whatever you’re pointing at turns into a bunny.

  3. Whoever you’re pointing at develops really bad indigestion.

  4. Summon Cerberus, the three headed hellhound of Hades.

  5. Your pouches are filled to bursting with gold coins.

  6. Teleport the ogre king to your location.

Excalibur: A legendary magical sword, used back when humans thought they were tough shit. This blade can cut through anything, literally.

Warhorn: A hollowed out Minotaur’s horn covered in magical runes. When blown, every creature within earshot becomes horribly confused, as though they’re trapped in a labyrinth.

Sunspot lantern: An elegant brass lantern that never goes out. There’s a piece of the sun trapped inside, so don’t open it—ever. (When opened everything in the vicinity catches fire.)

Dragon scale armour: Not only is it protective, but it also lets its wearer breathe fire. And it’s cozy.

Alchemical concoction: A vial filled with peculiar rainbow coloured fluid, it’s unsettlingly viscous. Drink it and roll 1d6 to see what happens from the list below.

  1. You’re filled with adrenaline, too much of it. You go into a rabid rage.

  2. You see the entire universe, the end times, and the beginning of it all. You immediately learn the solution to one problem you are facing.

  3. Everything around you slows down, time has stopped. Wait, no, time hasn’t stopped, but you’re moving incredibly fast. You gain super speed for a short duration.

  4. You feel light, like you weigh nothing. And why’s the ground  receding beneath you? For a short duration you’re as light as a feather.

  5. You feel heavy, like you weigh a ton. And why are you sinking into the ground? For a short duration you weigh a metric fuck-ton.

  6. This potion thingy isn’t agreeing with you, and you feel sick. You vomit acrid sputum in a direction of your choice, slathering the area in acidic fluid.

*Edited on July 10, 2019: Changed this to be an optional rule. I realized that having players take on adversarial roles against each other isn’t fun for all groups.

Worldbuilding Part 6: Nothing Matters Until You Make it Matter by Matthew Marchitto

Pages upon pages of worldbuilding notes, noble lineages, shifting political landscapes, it doesn’t matter.

Until you make it matter.

I’m always reluctant to start worldbuilding before I’ve started to write the story. All the bloody tears that went into that world can be erased with one wayward line of dialogue. I could always rewrite that line, but is that the right decision?

Sometimes the worldbuilding is wrong. Being beholden to a document isn’t the way to write a story. Instead, the story should dictate the worldbuilding. There has to be malleability to my worlds, there has to be room to move the pieces, realign the axis, erase an ancient king from its history.

What I’m getting at is that all the history and trade routes and political systems don’t matter until you make them matter. If it’s not on the printed page, then it’s on the chopping block. It can be changed, erased, altered, or never even see the tail end of a blinking cursor.

In this case, I think there’s a detriment to being over prepared. The story and characters should always come first, and the worldbuilding second. Being beholden to a worldbuilding doc is setting up a series of hurdles in front of your story. 

I say chuck it all and dive into the story, let the worldbuilding come after.

Edit (February 25, 2019): This series is about the things that I've learned, or am learning, about worldbuilding. It's me trying to level up my craft, and documenting the process. These posts represent my personal approach to worldbuilding, and the way I do it might not be right for you. I'm not an authority on writing, and so everything in these posts should be taken with not only a grain of salt, but a heaping bucket of saline.

Morbidus Joe by Matthew Marchitto

I can't quite remember how the idea for this story started. It might have been with the image of Morbidus Joe, and the question of why is he so morbid all the time. Or, it might have been with the idea of someone being so focused on one thing, like it could fix all their problems, when really they were looking for the wrong thing the whole time.

****

Every Thursday Morbidus Joe cried himself to sleep.

On Friday he’d trudge through his office in a stupor, blaming and hating himself for his melancholy mind.

On Saturday he’d stay indoors curled up in a blanket.

On Sunday he’d resolve to get over himself and stop making excuses.

On Monday he’d rev his Brimstone Squealer down Hellfire Highway, feeling like he could take over the whole underworld.

On Tuesday he’d finally do it, he’d ask Gluttonous Gal to go on a date.

Morbidus Joe had met Gluttonous Gal in an eatery, and every day since then they’d meet for lunch and spend an hour talking. Gal would order an eye of newt, and Joe would have a cup of lamentations. She told him about her job devouring the dammed, and he told her about his job tallying sins.

Morbidus learned that Gluttonous wanted to visit the Styx and maybe see Charon in person. If she was lucky she’d get to see him dump a penny pincher into the river. Morbidus Joe had never thought of travelling before, but it sounded like fun.

Tuesday came, but it didn’t feel right. “Tomorrow,” Morbidus Joe thought.

On Wednesday Morbidus Joe lost his nerve.

On Thursday he decided it was a bad idea and cried himself to sleep because nothing was ever going to change.

Morbidus Joe didn’t hate his life, but he didn’t like it either. Every day was the same, and it was the sameness that Joe hated. If he could ask Gal out, then maybe it would make things better.

The next three days passed Joe by. He trudged around in a stupor that lasted longer than normal. He felt wrong, like something inside was twisted.

On Monday Gluttonous Gal was telling him about a screamer she’d devoured, and when she was done Joe blurted out—

“Do you want to go on a date?”

Gal’s face contorted from shock, to flattery, to sadness.

Joe regretted asking.

“Morbidus, I like you, but not in that way.”

He wanted to walk out onto Hellfire Highway and let himself be crushed into dust. Why couldn’t he just keep his mouth shut?

Gal looked nervous. “But we can still be friends, right?”

Friends? Morbidus hadn’t even thought of it, but a friend was better than a date. And Morbidus needed a friend right now.

“Yes, I’d like that very much.”

On Tuesday Morbidus Joe tallied the vacation time he’d never used.

On Wednesday he bought two tickets to the Styx and told Gal they could go this very weekend.

On Thursday Morbidus Joe fell asleep thinking about everything he needed to pack for the trip.

Gary the Orc by Matthew Marchitto

This story started with the simplest of ideas, an orc named Gary. From there it grew into something a little silly and a lot bloody.

****

Garuk’tchuk’kai’ruk’ury, chieftain of the Red Hand orcs, slayer of the ogat’thu, and conqueror of the man-filth kingdoms, breathed deep of the crisp dawn air. The sharp ringing of hammers on steel and the roaring burn of churning furnaces greeted him. Today was going to be a good day.

Garuk’tchuk’kai’ruk’ury was renowned, feared, known for brutal swiftness and deft strategy. The man-filth called him Green Fury. The elves called him Soul’s Bane. The dwarves called him Stone Crusher. His friends called him Gary.

Gary strode through his chiefdom. Burly orcs nodded to him as he passed. Gary nodded back, taking note of who had earned themselves new tusk rings.

Oguthula, a scrawny orc with a gray beard to his knobby knees, shuffled after Gary.

“Oguthula, I don’t have time.”

“Sire, you must. The accounts are unbalanced, and the orb of quadrant calculation needs replenishing.” Ogulthula, the chiefdom’s accountant, said.

“Og, please. Just use the abacus.”

“And be lost to the innovations of the other chiefdoms? Never!”

“Fine, fine,” Gary acquiesced. “How do we replenish your quadrant orb?”

“I need the tongue of an ever living beast, the eye of a spectral nightmare, and the heart of a very smart man who might also be an asshole.”

“Og, I’m not killing Bill. How many times do we have to go over this?”

“But he stole my sheet of spreading and my cube of scrawling!”

“So go and ask for it back.”

“Not after he called me a bumblesnatch.”

Gary pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fine, a heart of a smart thing, possibly an asshole. I’ve got it.”

Ogulthula grumbled his thanks and shuffled away.

Gary sighed. A chief’s tasks were never over. He thought today would be simple, a few human raids, a few spoils of war, some relaxing grog. But, it seemed he’d have to go and get what Ogulthula needed.

Gary didn’t understand what it was accountants did. Og insisted they record every spoil, every ounce of gold, every bit of plunder they gathered. Including how much they tithed to the warchief, and for some reason at the end of each year they got some of it back.

It made no sense. Maybe that was why the man-filth called them savages.

***

It took all morning, but by brunch Gary had found Kragoa the Mutilated. Kragoa was an amorphous immortal writhing glob of undulating flesh. If Gary could answer three riddles, then Kragoa would bequeath one of his many tongues to Gary.

Gary got all three riddles wrong, said “fuck it” and wrestled the tongue out of Kragoa’s fifty-third mouth. With a swing of his axe and a spray of blood, Gary had the tongue of an ever living beast.

***

It was late afternoon when Gary reached the cultists altar at the bottom of the crypt. He was in luck, because an occult ritual was taking place at that very moment.

Gary didn’t have anything against cultists, he figured you can ooh and ohm as much as you like as long as it’s not in his backyard. Unfortunately, he needed the summoned specter’s eye, and the cultists wouldn’t let him have it.

Chop, chop.

Gary stuck meaty fingers into the ghost’s socket, plucking out an ice cold eyeball. He stepped over the cultists bodies, making sure not to slip on their innards.

***

It was late in the evening when he trudged into Ogulthula’s hut, battered and bloodied. He plopped the tongue and eye on the accountant’s desk with a sigh.

“I couldn’t find the heart. Can’t you make do with these?”

Ogulthula wrung his hands. “Well, actually, I, uh, I really only needed the heart. The rest was just for flavour.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

“Bill sleeps in every Friday!”

Gary white-knuckled his axe.

***

Gary placed the heart of an asshole beside the tongue and eye. He grabbed the goblin-phone and spoke into its ear. The goblin repeated each word, which was then screeched by a goblin sitting on the windowsill, which was then screeched by a goblin down the street, until the entire camp was filled with Gary’s goblin-screeched words.

“Bill, you’re the new accountant. Get down here and fix the orb of quadrant calculation. And have somebody clean up Ogulthula.”

Tarr of Tarrs by Matthew Marchitto

This story takes place in the same world as The Horned Scarab, but follows the Tarr and one of his bodyguards trying to evade an assassination attempt. Other than sharing a secondary world, the two stories don't connect in any way. Although, in theory, Tarr of Tarrs takes place while Arn and Rohqim are dealing with the Horned Scarab.

***

Tarr Oben, Tarr of Tarrs, regarded the land of his empire from a balcony of his temple fortress. Green fields spread before him, cut by mountain ridges and deep valleys. The mighty swing of the river Rund touched the horizon.

Eldara watched from behind silken curtains. Light from the noonday’s sun gleamed off her bronze cuirass. The Tarr had power, a power that was unseen to the eye, but heard in the depths of his voice, and perceived in the stride of his gait, the set of his shoulders, the pits of his eyes.

Tarr Oben turned from the balcony and strode into his chamber, robes embroidered with gold and silver trailing behind him. His necklaces and bracelets sang a soft clangour. Eldara followed, silent, and stood at the study’s entrance with Dula, another guard. 

“Eldara, come and look at this.” The Tarr’s voice resounded deep in Eldara’s chest.

Eldara obeyed, approaching the Tarr’s side, peering at the maps on his desk. Eldara gave the Tarr her counsel, in a soft, quiet voice. Her lips brushed the Tarr’s ear. He nodded to her, and without another word she returned to the doorway and stood alert. She noted Dula’s sideways glance.

Eldara’s eyes darted to a flicker of movement near the balcony. She took a step forward, and the first arrow flew. Her shield was up in time for the arrow to ping against its hardened bronze. Guards lurking in the shadows leaped forward. Four assailants in black cloth stalked into the Tarr’s chamber, bows at the ready. But the other guards did not engage them.

“What are you waiting for?” Dula said as he charged forward, shield upraised. But before he could reach the black clad men, a guard sliced open Dula’s throat. Dula fell to his knees, blood pulsing from his throat.

Their eyes alighted on Eldara.

She dashed into the study, swung the heavy oaken door shut, and slid the deadbolt into place. The Tarr was on his feet.

“What has happened?”

“We’ve been betrayed.”

He ran a hand over his beard. Then, he regarded her with a questioning gaze.

Eldara said, “the secret passage, it’s the only way out.”

Tarr Oben nodded, and together they moved the large desk to reveal the trapdoor beneath.

They darted through the secret corridor. They came to a barrack’s door. Eldara opened it just enough to peer through the gap. Her heart froze, a pile of bodies was all that remained of the fifth quarter guards. Their weapons and armor stolen.

Tarr Oben lightly touched her arm. “Whoever did this will suffer the Tarr’s justice.”

She turned from the gruesome sight.

Eldara continued down the corridor. “I know an unused passage to Counsel Orla’s chamber, there you will be safe until we learn how deep this betrayal’s roots are.”

“I trust Orla, but I will not hide. Together we will weed out the scum that mean to mock the Tarr.”

A side door opened, and a guard adorned as she was stepped into the passage. Her grip tightened on her sickle-sword.

“Hail,” the guard called. “We’ve trapped the traitors in the Tarr’s chambers.”

How long had they been walking for? This passage cut through complex networks of rooms and servant-ways. Would the guards in this quarter of the temple fortress know what had happened in the Tarr’s chamber?

“Have you notified the fifth quarter?” Eldara asked.

The guard hesitated, “yes.” His hand drifted toward his belt.

A dagger twirled through the air—not at Eldara, but at the Tarr. Eldara leaped in the way and felt the force of the dagger slam into her cuirass. She reeled into Oben’s arms.

He gasped. “Eldara…”

The man lunged. Eldara deflected a strike with her shield and used the deep curve of her sickle-sword to hook the man’s ankle and pull it out from under him. He went sprawling. She struck with the edge of her shield, and the man’s skull crunched and squelched under the force of her blow.

She turned to the Tarr. He leaned on the wall, rattled, but unharmed. Eldara pressed a hand to Tarr Oben’s shoulder. His eyes danced for a moment, and he gave her a weary smile.

She led the way, her shield dripping brain matter.

They came to the door of Orla’s chamber. Eldara opened it slightly and peered through. Orla, hunched and gray bearded, spoke quietly with one of his personal guards. Instinct held her back. Instead, she strained to hear the Counsel’s words.

“Is it done?” Orla asked.

“He escaped into a secret passage. Below we found a dead man, and no sign of the Tarr. He must have turned to a passageway unknown to us.”

“This damned place is hollow with rat holes. Unsurprising he would hide in one.”

Eldara’s heart thrummed. It was Orla who had killed her companions and tried to murder the Tarr. Oben—who had heard Orla’s words as well—nodded to her.

It was in silence that she emerged from the secret passage, and without joy that she struck down Orla’s guard. He did not have time to draw his blade.

Orla screamed. Eldara swung swift and true, and Orla’s head was severed from his shoulders.

Tarr Oben pulled Eldara close and whispered, “bring me Orla’s firstborn so that we might learn how deep this betrayal’s roots are.” His lips brushed her ear.

Monolith by Matthew Marchitto

This is an oldie I wrote a couple years ago. It's set in a world that I never fully fleshed out, where a native species of scaled creatures called Goras fight off an invading alien force. And throughout the Goras' planet are these ancient monolithic structures that they revere. Honestly, I can't remember what role the monoliths were supposed to play in the overarching story.

This piece is far from perfect, but I've decided to post it as is. I only gave it a very cursory edit for minor typos and errors. Otherwise, it's presented in all its pockmarked glory. 

***

The monolith touched the clouds. They swirled around the top of the massive gray column like the clouds of a mountain peak. At the very top, Arlon thought he could see specks of snow. Around its base were skeletons of Goras that had come before him, their corpses mangled and twisted in on themselves. I will not fail.

The monolith had been here since time before memory, since time before time, and all the while it sat silently contemplating. Arlon, feeling the chill seep between his green scale plates and seek out his flesh beneath, reached out a hand and touched the monolith.

Nothing happened.

Am I not worthy?

Arlon had travelled through the grand forests and swamplands and into the realm of the Gora’s enemies, all the while hoping beyond hope that he would be chosen by the monolith. But no visions came to him, no whispered words found his ears, no otherworldly beings reached out to touch his flesh.

Arlon shrugged, his scales screeching against one another, and he craned his head to look toward the monolith’s peak. Perhaps, he thought, perhaps there is a way to show my worthiness.

Arlon marched around the base of the monolith, it was so large it would have taken him days to make a full rotation, but after a few hours he found what he had hoped for--a stair. A series of horizontal stones jutted out of the monolith’s gray stone. They were not connected, and some were farther apart than the others, but Arlon could climb it.

And so he did, reaching one hand above the other to grasp the stones and use those below him as footholds, he climbed. And climbed. And climbed. Arcing through the sky, the twin moons shone on him with soft pale light, and the sun rose once more. And still Arlon climbed, heaving from the effort, never stopping. How many days past he could not know, but soon he felt the cold chill of the monolith’s peak, and reached an opening at the very top of the monolith. Arlon crawled into it, hauling himself over the caves lip and falling to the ground, panting and heaving. And before he could bring himself to his feet, he passed out from exhaustion. How much time had passed he did not know, but he awoke to the sun high in the sky and its light warm on his scales.

Arlon now looked into the cave, it was a smooth and perfectly round tunnel, the sun’s light illuminated it from holes in the ceiling. He took the bladed chakram from his hip, and holding it firm in his hand began the long march forward. It was long and slow, but soon he came to a grand opening that led into a circular room. And in the center of this room was the decayed skeleton of a Gora, one such as him. He approached the skeleton, reached a trembling hand to touch its surface, and felt nothing but dry bone. The monolith had been his faith, the one thing his people could see from all their land, the one hope of another, a better place. And now he had climbed this ancient and holy place to find nothing but a corpse. There were no answers for his people here, no secret knowledge, no whispers from the afterlife.

The room led nowhere, there was no other stair, no secret room. And it was a long and slow walk back to the cave’s entrance. And as he stood at the lip of the cave, he thought, how can I return to my people? How can I tell them everything we believed was a lie. He couldn’t, because he couldn’t bear to break the hearts of a thousand generations with the truth that he was now faced with.

And so, with a hollow place in his chest and a tear in his eye, he stepped out over the precipice of the cave--and fell.

Goodreads Giveaway: The Horned Scarab by Matthew Marchitto

The Horned Scarab is up for grabs over at Goodreads. If you have a Goodreads account you can enter for a chance to win one of two paperback copies. The giveaway is only open to U.S. and Canadian residents. 

If you've been curious about my work, this is a dang good way to job on board at no cost.

Edit (April 23, 2017): The giveaway has ended. Thanks to everyone who entered!

The Book of Jewels by Matthew Marchitto

Illustration by Monica G. Cabral |  twitter  |  tumblr  |  Instagram  |

Illustration by Monica G. Cabral | twitter | tumblr | Instagram |

I wrote this short story a little over a year ago. Then, I didn't really have any intentions on what to do with it. All I knew was that I had come up with this fantasy world and I wanted to write something in it. Enter Hrusk, the half-orc half-gnome ass kicker. (I also have a rough novella with her has the protagonist.) 

This world, at the moment referred to as Aftania, is my own version of orcs, gnomes, and elves. I came around to this late, I think most fantasy writers probably start with the elves, get it out of their system, and then transition to more creative stuff. I did the reverse, writing weird shit before I decided "fuck it," I wanted to write about orcs. Some of the worldbuilding elements have changed since I wrote The Book of Jewels, but I've decided to upload it warts and all. Hopefully, you'll see more of Hrusk in the future.

****

The orc punched Hrusk in the face.

Roll with the punch.

“Half-breed’s got nothing clever to say now?” He jabbed her in the gut.

Groan, make them think it hurts.

The orcs tossed her against the wall, and the biggest most tattooed of them leaned forward and said, “we don’t want to see you around here again. Ever.”

Avert your eyes, make them think you’re scared.

They sauntered off, seeming real proud of themselves.

Hrusk spat blood onto the alleyway’s cobbles. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and then felt her ribs. Nothing was broken. She rolled her tongue around her tusks, both still there. Hrusk crouched near the opposite wall and searched the grime crusted cobbles. There it is. A key, covered in small markings, which she managed to swipe from one of the orcs. They hadn’t even noticed as she tossed it to the side.       

This better be worth it.

She walked into the street and pulled up her hood. The people here were packed shoulder to shoulder. She sidestepped a bushy bearded gnome, and shouldered past a giant beetle who warbled a complaint at her. She averted her gaze from a pack of orcs, muscular and hairless with black pupilless eyes, and ducked under a floating cart. Its levitation sigils warm on her skin. She came face-to-face with an armastoat, who snorted snot onto her and then licked it off. A moment later its handler cracked a whip and the stoat lumbered on hauling the cart at its back.

Hrusk squeezed her way to a side street that led to the Teal district. It stunk of rotted meat. She checked the dagger at her waist and laid a hand on the pommel of her sword. This was one of the places in the city of Aftan that few wanted to be in. The tenements were made of rotted wood and cracked bricks. She rounded a corner and found herself walking in the space between two tenements, barely wide enough for her to fit. There were a lot of shadowed corners someone could disappear into. One bad job for the wrong kind of people and Hrusk would find herself in one of those nooks. She didn’t like the Teal district.    

A man with a golden beard and long matted hair slumped against a wall with a canteen in his hand. Even in that position Hrusk could tell he was tall and lanky, and the pointed ears added to the effect.

Hrusk kicked him, and he looked up at her, his face angular, his nose hawkish, and his eyes a vibrant blue.

“Hello Ellbrim, I got what you wanted.” Hrusk tossed the key into his lap.

Ellbrim rolled it between his fingers, took a swig from his canteen, and said, “well, shit. I didn’t think you could do it.”

“I’ve been dealing with orc gangs ever since I can remember. I barely broke a sweat.” One of her bruises radiated a dull ache.

 Ellbrim rose from his place, making sure to secure his canteen on a loop at his belt, and began to lead Hrusk deeper into the Teal district. All five feet of her had to look upward to see his face. It was hard to believe that this ragged elf had once been a renowned incanter. His faded red waistcoat with dangling threads made him look like a vagabond.

Ellbrim kept taking swigs from his canteen. He staggered once, leaned against a wall, and then regained himself. She’d done jobs for him before, and when he promised a payout he was good for it. Even if the job ended in a maelstrom of spectral fire.

Ellbrim stopped before a dilapidated tenement missing four of its walls and all of its roof. Ellbrim stepped over the rubble into the building. Hrusk chuckled as she walked through the only standing door.

“You needed a key for this place?” Hrusk said.

Ellbrim held the key pointed downward between his forefinger and thumb. “The key is sigiled, though I doubt the orcs knew that.” The key moved slightly as Ellbrim paced through the tenement. “The best place to hide a secret is where no one will look for it.”

Brilliant.

“Here,” the key in Ellbrim’s hand vibrated from an unseen force. “Tear up these floorboards. Now.”

Hrusk sauntered forward, “take it easy with the commands and the ‘now.’” Hrusk jammed her dagger between the floorboards and pried them up. She looked into the opening to see solid steel. “Well shit. There is something here.” She pulled up the rest of the floorboards to reveal a steel door. It was covered in sigils similar to those on the key, and had no hinges or keyholes. “And how does this thing open up?”

Ellbrim let go of the key and it hovered above the steel plate. With a few whispered words, a motion of his hands, and a spark of blue light, it began to lower. Jagged sigils glowed when it touched the steel plate, and the key melted into the steel. There was a grinding noise, and the plate dissipated. A cloud of gray-blue mist rose around them. Hrusk batted her hand in front of her face.

Ellbrim bowed, “after you.”

“What’s down there?”

“An ancient temple to a forgotten god.”

That was never good. “What exactly is it you’re looking for?”

Ellbrim shrugged. “There will be gems and jewels, enough to pay you what I promised twice over.”

Hrusk was getting that festering feeling in the pit of her stomach. An ambiguous incanter and an ancient temple never went well together. But temples were notorious for being lavish. She inclined her head toward the opening, “pointy ears first.”

Ellbrim extended his hands as if to say “as you wish” and descended the stair. Hrusk followed. The stair led far beneath Aftan. It spiraled around a thick column. The stair led into a long hall with unused lanterns hanging from the walls. Ellbrim snapped his fingers as they passed these and each one burst to life with green fire. They came to a grand chamber, and her eyes widened. Gems. A lot of fucking gems. They lined the walls, embedded in the stone to make murals and frescoes. Even the pillars were covered in rubies and sapphires. Jewel encrusted serpents spiraled up the pillars. 

Ellbrim marched into the chamber.

“Wait, what are you doing?”

He spun on a heel and raised his hands to take in the whole chamber. “What’s it matter, look at all this. Start taking as much as you can carry. It’s your reward.” And he turned his back to her.

Hrusk drew her dagger and started popping jewels out of the walls. She stuffed as many as she could into her satchel, all the while keeping an eye on Ellbrim. There was so much here, her gaze travelled along the walls and ceilings. If no one else knew of this place, she could live like a king, coming back to harvest it all. But Ellbrim knew of it. She didn’t even like elves.

Hrusk shook those thoughts from her mind. Don’t go to that dark place. You’re better than that.

Hrusk made for the door. She glanced over her shoulder. In the center of the far wall was a massive serpent statue coiled in on itself. It was covered in crimson and amber jewels, and its maw was closed. Ellbrim raised his hands above his head, and spoke in a language Hrusk didn’t recognize. The air around him went muddy, and the serpent’s head rose. It brought its great head back, opened its maw, and slammed down on Ellbrim. Its maw closed over the elf, and then it returned to its resting position. Ellbrim was gone. No blood, no fabric, not even scuff marks on the tiled floor.

Hrusk knew enough about incanters and gods to turn her back on the temple. A small part of her was curious as to what she had just witnessed, but she buried that part, along with the entrance to the temple. She heaped broken beams and mounds of bricks over the entranceway to make sure no one else found it. Maybe she’d come back later for more gemstone. For now, she was going to get out of the Teal district.

***

Hrusk spent her gems all over the city of Aftan. She had gone from tavern to tavern gulping as much ale as she could and getting thrown into the street for being too rowdy. She was half asleep, her face pressed against slimy cobbles, when two bugmen approached her.

“You the half-orc half-gnome?” One of them warbled at her through its face mandibles.

When Hrusk gave a groan for an answer the second one, which looked like a hunched over beetle, said, “what else would she be? Look at her.”

The bugman’s tone roused Hrusk, and she stumbled to her feet. “Whadya sez?” She fumbled at the hilt of her sword but couldn’t get it free.

Each bugman grabbed one of her arms and started dragging her through the back alleys of Aftan. By the time Hrusk was regaining herself she was against a dead end wall facing three figures. Two were the ant and beetle bugmen, and the third was a man in a thick cloak with his hood drawn. She could see a tangled white beard spilling out of the hood. Symbols around his eye emanated a muted glow. Sigils?.  

“You are Hrusk?” The man said.

She nodded.

“I need to ask you about the Teal District.”

She didn’t answer.

“Rumor is a half-orc half-gnome was seen with an elf named Ellbrim. Do you know who that is?”

“No.”

The man raised a hand from within his cloak and snapped his fingers. A circle of red lightning surrounded Hrusk. “Wrong answer. What did Ellbrim show you in the Teal district?”

“Nothing.”

He snapped his fingers again and the circle of lightning tightened. She could feel its heat on her legs, and the crackling made her ears ring.  

Two four-armed bugmen and an incanter, the odds weren’t in her favor. Bide my time.

“Temple,” Hrusk submitted. “A temple.”

“Good. What kind of temple?”

“I don’t know,” she lied. Let him think her ignorant. The circle of lightened edged closer. “There were jewels everywhere, and snakes. That’s all I saw.”    

A smile played on the man’s lips. “Good, good. Now, you’re going to show me where it is. And remember, if you try anything clever, I’ll end you.”

She nodded.

The lightning faded, and Hrusk remembered to breath. I’ll run you through, old man. A set of insectoid hands took the sword and dagger at her hip, and then pushed her forward.

“Walk,” the ant one said.

Hrusk decided to take the long way to the Teal District.      

She came to learn that the ant was named Kank and the beetle was named Bamb. The old man said nothing other than “keep walking.”

Hrusk figured she could take down one of the bugs, maybe both if she managed to pry her weapons from them, but the old man at her back was a problem.

Carbun Avenue came into sight, dense with Aftan citizens. Hrusk led them as near as she dared. Her foot struck out, and Bamb’s knee twisted at an awkward angle. The beetle let out a warbled cry of pain. Hrusk tore her arm free of Kank’s grasp and darted into the crowd of Carbun Avenue.

She shouldered past a gnome, who went toppling into a human, who knocked down three other people. Bamb and Kank warbled at her, and a quick glance showed them charging into the crowd. They stumbled and shoved the confused onlookers out of their way. Hrusk ducked under a floating cart, pressed her hands to its bottom, and heaved. The levitation sigils groaned as the cart tipped. They couldn’t support the cart at a lopsided angle, and it fell with a crash, spilling cabbages and grains into the street.

Everyone in the street stared at the overturned cart and the two bugmen that clambered over it. Two orcs drew Hrusk’s eye. One had a myriad of tattoos across his body, it was the orc she’d stolen the key from. Hrusk dashed toward him, the bugmen on her heels. Too late the orc saw her fist streaking toward his face. The impact resounded with a meaty thud. Hrusk managed a quick “fucker” before sidestepping the stunned orc and barreling into the crowd. The bugmen collided with the orcs and they all tumbled into a heap of flailing limbs.

Hrusk darted into an alley. The tumult of the crowd faded as she dashed away. The alley opened onto a narrow street. Just as she rounded a corner, something grasped her leg. Off balance, she stumbled to the ground. The pressure writhed up her legs and to her abdomen. Her arms were pinned to her sides, and something hissed, its tongue licking her ear.

A red scaled snake coiled around her. The old man loomed over her. He spoke a strange language, and the snake tightened.  

“Now,” the old man said through clenched teeth, “you’re not going to do that again.” With a word the snake raised Hrusk to her feet.  “We’re going to the Teal District, and you’re showing me to that doorway. Or—“ the snake tightened and twisted as he spoke that strange tongue. “Do you understand?”

Hrusk nodded.

Bamb and Kank came stumbling into the street.

“Bind her hands, and make sure she doesn’t get away this time,” the old man said.

The bugmen tied her hands and then each grabbed one of her arms. The old man exhaled, and the red serpent dissipated.    

***

The Teal district, cracked and crumbling. Hrusk led the way to the fallen temple. She cursed Ellbrim, wherever he was.

When they found the dilapidated building, Hrusk took a step back and pointed her chin to the mound of rubble. “Under there,” she said.

Bamb pushed her aside and began hefting shattered stone and splintered wood to reveal the passage below.

The old man’s eyes were fixed on the dimly lit stair. Without looking at Hrusk, he said, “kill her.”

The abruptness of it made her heart leap. Kank drew his four blades and marched toward her. Hrusk backed away, arms bound and her weapons at the bugman’s hip. Kank leaped at her. Hrusk sidestepped the blow. Kank reeled on her and unleashed a flurry of whirling limbs. Hrusk ducked and dodged as best she could. So many damn arms. Kank thrust, Hrusk sidestepped it and clamped her jaws down hard on his wrist. She twisted her head and tasted bitter ichor. Kank let out a warbled cry as she spat out his hand. Hrusk lunged, pulling her sword free from Kank’s hip. Kank reeled, and she thrust with her blade, burying it deep into Kank’s chest. Green ichor pulsed from the wound, and Kank fell to the ground convulsing.

The old man and Bamb were gone. They’d underestimated her. She’d never have a better time to get away. But Ellbrim could be down there. She shooed away the thought. Let them shit fire on each other. Not my problem. She took a step away from the doorway. He’s probably drunk off his ass. A flicker of light came from the passage, it shone a faint green. It’s two against one. Ellbrim was supposed to be powerful. Drunk and out of practice. Hrusk turned toward the passage. She told herself this was to get revenge on the old man, not because she was worried about the elf. She grabbed her dagger from Kank’s corpse and made her way down the passage.

The lanterns Ellbrim had lit still shone, and she could see Bamb the beetle and the old man entering the jeweled chamber. She kept near the shadows as she moved closer. Take out the old man first, and then the beetle will be easy.

The old man and Bamb were standing before the great jeweled serpent. Hrusk pressed her body close to one of the grand hall’s pillars. The old man raised his hands and spoke in that unfamiliar language. The jeweled serpent came to life, opened its great maw, struck forward, and swallowed them both.

Hrusk waited a few moments and watched the jeweled serpent. The hall was quiet, and the statue made no further movements. Hrusk walked up to the jeweled serpent, sword and dagger in hand, and stared at it for a time. It didn’t move nor did it show any signs of life. She tapped her pommel against the statue’s body. Nothing.

She climbed it, hauling herself over the thick coils of its body until she was beside its head. She tried to pry the mouth open, but it wouldn’t move. She tapped her pommel along its neck, and it resounded with a hollow ringing. Using the pommel of her sword she struck at the serpent’s neck. Jewels fell to the ground and a crack formed where she had struck it. Again and again she slammed the steel of her pommel into the statue until chunks began to fall away and she could feel the soft caress of air on her skin. She pulled and pried at the hole, kicking pieces inward and forcing it wider and wider until she could fit through it. She climbed into the serpent’s gullet and had to crouch low to keep her head from striking the smooth stone above her.

She tripped and went tumbling down the tunnel. She careened down a spiraling tunnel, deeper and deeper, until tumbled onto stone.

What she saw was a palace. With domed spires and sprawling walls, it was a massive complex hidden in a large cavern. Green flame shimmered in lanterns. The palace was covered in jewels, but at the center of palisades, arching bridges, and huge towers were gem stones the size of horses. Hrusk had never seen anything like it.

She stood in the palace courtyard bathed in spectral green light. This first courtyard led to another wall, likely made to keep ancient armies out, and as she passed through the gate she froze in place. Lying on the tiles of an inner courtyard was Bamb’s body littered with arrows.

She pressed close to the doorway with her sword drawn and scanned the surrounding parapets and towers. She couldn’t see anyone.

She found her way through the first courtyard and up a stair to the parapets, from there a door led into a tower, up a stair, and to the top that was connected to an arching bridge that led from tower to tower.

A stooped humanoid figure stood motionless on the bridge, bow in hand. Hrusk stepped forward. The statue’s head whipped around to face her, symbols carved into it shone to life, and an arrow shattered on the wall beside Hrusk’s head. She barreled forward. The thing knocked an arrow and fired again, nicking her shoulder. Before it could knock a third Hrusk was on it and swung, gripping her sword two-handed, and shattered its chest like porcelain. It made a sound like grinding stone, and the myriad of symbols lost their glow.

Automatons. Artificial creatures brought to life with complex sigils. They could “live” for centuries requiring no food or rest. How ever ancient this palace was, it was still protected.

Ellbrim, what were you looking for here? She had a vision of the ragged elf proliferated with arrows. She shook the image from her mind. His body wasn’t in the courtyard with Bamb, which meant he may still be alive.

An arrow sailed past her head nearly clipping her ear. Her gaze found its source, an automaton knocking another arrow on the opposite bridge. She ran for the tower before her, and a dozen arrows clattered to the tiles around her. Automatons appeared in windows and from behind railings. One emerged from the doorway in front of her and let its arrow fly. Hrusk charged.  

It dropped its bow and drew a long rusted sword. Hrusk parried a thrust, sending orange mist into the air. She struck with her dagger. The automaton’s clay chest shattered, gears of tin and copper clanging to the ground as its sigils faded.

Hollow footsteps sounded from the stairs, more were coming for her.

She ran out onto the bridge where four automatons stood shoulder to shoulder, and a quick look over her shoulder showed more crowding the tower stairs. Hrusk wondered if it was too late to start praying to Balael.

Hrusk charged the four in front of her. Her sword swung, and the automaton’s rusted swords bent and shattered from the force. She ducked under a swing and tackled the attacker. With a heave strengthened by her momentum she sent one of the automatons over the bridge’s railing. She whirled in time to catch a broken rusty sword with her dagger, and cleaved through its head with her sword. The broken sigils popped, sizzled, and lost their glow. The automaton collapsed. The final two lumbered forward.  

The others had made their way up the stair and were crowding the bridge. Hrusk was about to turn and run when one of the automatons burst into flame, its porcelain flesh melting away. Another and another caught fire and the flames burned green.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” A voice called from behind her.

Hrusk turned to see an elf with a ragged beard and frayed red overcoat. With a flick of his wrist another automaton burst into flame.

Ellbrim!”

“Good eye, now hurry up.”

 “Are you going to explain what’s happening?”

“Automatons.”

“Right.”

Ellbrim led her from the tower and they bolted down a spiraling stair to an inner hall. Ellbrim swung the door shut and lowered a heavy iron bar over it.

“Now,” Hrusk said between breaths, “what is going on?”

Ellbrim mopped the sweat from his brow with his coat sleeve. “This is the palace of Orga.”

“You mean the palace?”

“One of her palaces. I came here looking for the Book of Jewels.”

“And that old man?”

“He wants the book.”

“Figures. Who is he?”

“His name is—“

A thunderclap shook the palace. Hrusk glared out a window to a large tower in the palace’s center. Red lightning sparkled in its windows.

“I’m guessing that’s where the book is,” Hrusk said.

“Most likely,” Elbrim brushed his beard. “There are a lot of automatons in there.”

“How much is a lot?”

“A small army kind-of-a-lot.”

“So, we just sit back and let them take care of the old man.”

Another thunderclap and an arc of lightning shot through one of the central tower’s windows. An automaton went spiraling to the ground, shattering into pieces.

Ellbrim was up and running. “We can’t let him get the book!”

Hrusk spat a curse and was sprinting beside Ellbrim a moment later.    

The courtyard was littered with the shattered remnants of automatons.

Hrusk picked up a piece of porcelain, its edges smoking. ”How strong is this guy?”

“Very.”

They bounded up a spiral stair crushing shards of porcelain beneath their boots. He’ll be tired when we get to him.

Two large double doors stood slanted on their hinges. Beyond was a grand hall of jeweled serpentine pillars and marble tiles. In the center stood the old man, hood back revealing his tattooed pate and glimmering eyes. Blood red lightning crackled around his hands. An eight foot tall automaton, nearly half as wide, loomed over the old man. It raised a rusty cleaver, and before it could swing it burst full of lightning. The cleaver fell to the ground as its hand melted, and the automaton turned to a pile of slop.

Ellbrim charged forward, his own hands engulfed in green flames. Hrusk watched as a cascade of green fire and red lightning exploded into the air. Each’s blasts seemed to resound off invisible barriers.

Hrusk made her way around the two. Each of their blows boomed like a thunderclap and shook the palace’s foundations. Jewels clanged to the floor, and tiles cracked from the force.

Within the serpent’s maw sat the Book of Jewels. The serpent statue’s ruby eyes glinted from the reflected light of spectral fire. There’s probably a pressure plate. She flexed her fists, her eyes darting to Ellbrim with each thunderous strike. Or it might breathe fire, spit acid. Ellbrim stumbled, and an arc of lightning singed his overcoat. Balael’s ass.

Hrusk leaped for the book, clutching it as she dove through the serpent's maw. The palace shook, and the sound of grinding stone echoed throughout the chamber. A screeching hiss sent Hrusk reeling. The serpent statue came to life. It slithered to the person in its field of vision, the old man.

He didn’t see what was rising behind him, even as Ellbrim began to back away.

It was at the last moment that he looked over his shoulder, and a primal fear twisted his features. The serpent statue struck with the speed of a viper, cleaving him in two.

The old man’s entrails spilled onto the marble tiles and seeped into cracks and crevasses as the serpent statue shook its head back and forth.

Ellbrim slumped against a pillar, sweat beading his brow and breathing heavy. Hrusk made an involuntary “whoop.” And the serpent’s head snapped around to regard her.

Shit.

Clutching the Book of Jewels close to her, Hrusk ran. Ellbrim staggered after her, struggling to keep up. The serpent statue snaked around pillars, and its bulk scraped and marred the walls of the spiral stairs. It followed them through the courtyard, crashing through walls and crushing still living automatons beneath it. All the while its ruby eyes intent on Hrusk and the Book of Jewels.

“The book,” Ellbrim wheezed. “Give it to me.”

Hrusk tossed him the book, which the elf nearly fumbled. The serpent had caught itself on a narrow corridor, and it was writhing to shake away the wall. Stone fell away from its sides as the corridor distended.

Ellbrim flipped through the books brass pages. Each was inlaid with small sigiled jewels and gemstones that glowed as Ellbrim passed his fingers over them. Hrusk was clutching her sword in both hands.

“Ellbrim, hurry.”

Ellbrim raised his hand, spoke in the language he’d used to enter the palace, and flicked his wrist at Hrusk. Her sword began to glow with white light.

The serpent darted forward in a storm of dust and shattered stone.

“Strike it!” Ellbrim called.

Hrusk raised her sword over her head, and as the serpent descended on her she swung. Sparks flew from where she hit, and chunks of stone fell away from the serpentine statue. Beneath its shattered flesh were slimy red scales. It reared up to strike again. Hrusk cast a glance at Ellbrim, but the elf was half-lidded, fighting to remain conscious.

The serpent struck. Hrusk leaped out of the way, its snout colliding into her side with such force that she went tumbling. Her blade still glowed. The serpent rushed forward. Still on the ground, Hrusk swung a warding blow. The blade’s tip sliced the serpent’s snout, and a series of cracks spider webbed outward. Hrusk scrambled to her feet.

 Ruby eyes glinted, and behind them blinked membranous eyes. It slithered forward, the foundations quaking from its movements, its tongue flicking outward. It lunged, Hrusk dodged to the side. Fangs racked marble. A ruby eye loomed before her. She thrust her sword, ephemeral light pierced through the gemstone to the flesh beneath. The grand serpent reared, maw wide with a silent roar. It thrashed, smashing its head against pillars and walls. The serpent fell, its body stilled, and the light from Hrusk’s sword faded.

She stared for a time before slumping to the ground. A few moments later Ellbrim staggered to her side.

They sat together, regarding the wreckage in silence. She traced the curve or the serpent, and noted the blood pooling beneath its head.

“That book,” Hrusk said. “It’s powerful.”

Ellbrim nodded.

“You could do a lot with that.”

“A lot of bad things.”

“Or good things.”

Ellbrim flipped through the pages, passing his fingers over the jewels. Each glowed as he did so, the sigils carved into them shimmering. He lingered on one longer than all the rest. He threw the book into the air, spoke a few words in that mysterious language, and snapped his fingers. The Book of Jewels was engulfed in flame. Its ashes scattered in the air before it touched the ground.

“Now,” Ellbrim said, “we don’t have to worry about it.”