Word count: ~4200
Warnings: Some vague descriptions of gore.
Agrat carried Rokag with her flopped over his broad shoulder, her skinny legs dangling over his chest and her arms stretched out down his back. He kept one arm wrapped over her back, and the other around her knees.
“Alright, kiddo,” he said as they made their way upstairs together. “Time fer you t’ get some sleep.” Rokag groaned and thumped his back with her little fists.
“I’m not tired!” she said and writhed in an attempt to escape. Agrat chuckled and patted her. He creaked open the door to her room. Rokag’s had the smallest room in the house, but only hers had three windows. One was wider than the others, and set in the corner wall above a built-in bench that doubled as storage for her toys. However, she left most of them scattered on the floor. Her favorite was a soft boar Finn and Agrat made for her—he carved its facial features and its paws from wood, and Finn sewed its body, limbs, and head together. They stuffed it with wool. It had a few “scars” of its own from years of dragging it around, and she loved to compare it to both of them. Now that she was a little older, she mostly kept it in her room, but still treasured it dearly.
“What, y’ think you can trick yer old pops?” he said. “I saw you yawnin’ down there through yer nose. Come on—into bed with you.” He bent and laid her down, and Rokag crossed her arms while he tugged the blanket up to tuck her in.
“You jus’ want me t’ go to sleep ‘cuz you and dad wanna go to bed, but you aren’t tired either!” she said. Agrat sat at the foot of her bed with his elbows resting on his thighs.
“And why would we go t’ bed if we weren’t sleepy?” he said.
“Because you’re boring!” She bared what few teeth she had. Her baby tusks were starting to get wiggly and loose. Sometimes she sat and poked at them until Finn told her to quit it and let them fall out on their own. Normal baby teeth could be yanked out early with little consequence, but pulling a tusk out before it was ready made for unnecessary pain. Agrat smiled at her and his lips pulled around his much larger, definitely permanent tusks.
“Y’ know, Rokag, it jus’ occurred t’ me—when’s th’ last time I told you of one of Gorak’s adventures?” he said. Rokag’s eyes widened and she grinned.
“Tell me!” she said.
“Promise you’ll go t’ bed when it’s done, alright?” he said, and she nodded. “Now, what happened last time? I can’t seem t’ remember.” Rokag kicked her feet under the blanket and tugged it up to her chin.
“Ummm… Gorak was in the dwarf kingdom, an’ they were about t’ fight th’ goblins,” she said. Agrat nodded slowly and rubbed his chin.
“That’s right, that’s right,” he said, and thought back. He closed his eyes a moment and began. “So, Gorak and his friends were standin’ in the exit to that long, narrow cave, right over th’ goblin city. He, Grumbly, Anne, an’ Cas can see most everythin’, but, as y’ know, Henry and Mercy can’t, since they’re human. So, the three of ‘em who can see in the dark peer over th’ edge, as quietly as they could. And wouldn’t you know, what they saw was jus’ terrifyin’!”
“What’d they see?” Rokag said.
“Th’ whole place’s filled with goblins! They’re marchin’ all over and squabblin’, causin’ a fuss fer all t’ hear. They’ve got big ol’ fires lit, and y’know what they’re roastin’ over them?” he said. Rokag shook her head. Agrat paused for flair and suddenly opened his hands in front of her. “Other goblins!” Rokag gasped.
“They eat each other?!” she said. Agrat laughed a little guiltily and scratched the back of his neck. She was genuinely horrified. Better fix that.
“No, no—see, th’ big goblins were doin’ it t’ bully th’ little ones,” he said. “They jus’ liked t’ burn their wee toes because they were big meanies.” Rokag let out the breath she was holding. “So, Grumbly points this out t’ the rest, an’ they see th’ biggest goblin of all—the goblin king. His name’s, oh… well darn, Rokag, I jus’ can’t seem t’ remember the goblin king’s name!” He crossed his arms and scratched his forehead with one finger theatrically.
“The king’s name was Humdiddlump!” Rokag said and pointed at him. Agrat snapped his fingers.
“That’s right!” he said. “So King Humdiddlump—or, as his friends called ‘im, King Dumpy—he comes out and starts barkin’ orders at th’ other big goblins. He tells ‘em, ‘Come, my servants! We must go to the great pyramid temple now.’ So they follow him, and—”
“What’s King Humdiddlump look like?” Rokag said.
“King Humdiddlump looks real scary. He’s got these big claws made from metal—kinda like swords attached t’ his hands—and there are these big chunks of iron stickin’ from his back. He’s the biggest, meanest, ugliest goblin in th’ whole town,” Agrat said.
“Does he wear a bandana?” Rokag said. Agrat nodded.
“You bet,” he said. “Tied over his mouth, an’ his nose sticks over it. His breath’s so bad that if th’ other goblins smell it, they pass out.” Rokag burst out laughing. “So, Mercy, Henry, an’ Grumbly decide t’ follow them. They’re silent as thieves, remember, but they don’t want t’ risk bein’ seen. So, Anne turns them into clouds, and they float—all puffy and soft—behind th’ goblins, way overhead where they can’t be seen. Goblins, they ain’t too smart, and they prefer th’ ground, so they don’t look up all that much. They’re always lookin’ fer shiny rocks and gems t’ eat.”
“How’d Anne turn them into clouds?” Rokag said.
“She’s magic, remember?” Agrat said. “She can do almost anythin’.” Rokag nodded, satisfied with the explanation. “So, the goblins go into this big, tall pyramid, an’ they shut the door behind ‘em. So they can’t see what’s goin’—”
“How do Mercy and Henry see?” Rokag said. “They’re human so they can’t.”
“Oh, yer old pops forgot t’ mention! Henry used magic so he and Mercy could see in th’ dark,” Agrat said, and tapped his head. “They could see jus’ fine. So they stake it out—Mercy, who’s the quietest in th’ group, she sneaks up t’ th’ top of the pyramid and peers inside, and she sees somethin’ even worse than th’ goblins.”
“Was it a dragon?” Rokag said. Agrat shook his head.
“No dragons here,” he said. “Th’ big goblins are all lined up, and there’s this big, tall creature in front of ‘em. It’s three times as tall as any goblin, even King Dumpy, so it towers over them.”
“How big is it?” Rokag said with wide, curious eyes. “What is it?”
“I’ll tell ya in a moment!” Agrat said. He stood. “The creature’s taller’n me, but real skinny. Lithe-like, like an elf.”
“So it’s an elf!” Rokag said.
“No, no—elves are shorter’n orcs, even half-orcs, remember?” Agrat said. “Grumbly only comes up t’ here.” He gestured on his chest at about where Grumbly’s head would be if they stood in front of each other. Rokag nods. “So, this is no elf. And, it’s wearin’ a helmet made from smooth, shiny metal—like nothin’ you’ve ever seen here before. No seams, no marks from hammers, nothin’—just smooth as water.”
“What’s it doin’?”
“Well, this thing turns t’ the goblins and says t’ ‘em, ‘None of you work hard enough! I need more—more screams and tears and sadness!’” Rokag’s little jaw dropped open.
“Is it forcin’ the big goblins t’ pick on the little ones?” she said. Agrat snapped his fingers.
“Quick thinker, you!” he said. “Yeah, that’s exactly what’s happenin’. The thing takes off its helmet t’ reveal this bizarre face. It’s got tentacles comin’ from where it ought t’ have a beard. You remember that critter with th’ eight legs we caught fishin’ on th’ seashore, yeah?”
“It’s got one o’ those on its head?” Rokag said.
“The critter is its head!” Agrat said. He put his hands in front of his mouth and wiggled his fingers. “So it says to ‘em, ‘You, come here! I need sustenance!’ And it points at th’ fattest goblin, who’s cryin’ with fear right now.” Rokag tilted her head.
“What’s sustenance?” she said.
“Like he’s gotta eat,” Agrat said. She nodded. “The thing wraps its slimy tentacles ‘round th’ goblin’s head, and sucks away all his tears, and all his terror, too. When it’s done, th’ goblin’s skinnier’n Graguk’s bony fingers, but all over his body. He moves on t’ th’ next one, then.” Rokag stared with rapt fascination. “So, Grumbly, Mercy, and Henry decide they want some help. They send a magic letter t’ Cas and Gorak, and tell ‘em t’ come over.”
“How’re they gonna get over?” Rokag said.
“Cas uses magic potions, an’ makes his own all th’ time. He brews up two of ‘em, gives one t’ m—er, t’ Gorak, and they can fly straight over th’ goblin city,” Agrat said. Rokag’s eyes went wide and she grinned.
“People can fly?!” she said.
“With magic, they sure can!” Agrat said. “They get t’ the temple, and they land there quietly. Gorak’s a little noisy—he’s wearin’ his armor, y’know.” Rokag put her hands on the sides of her head and looked up at the ceiling with a groan.
“Gorak is so stupid sometimes,” she said, and Agrat nodded with a completely straight expression.
“He absolutely is,” he said. “Gorak’s got more muscles’n brains, remember? He’s a fool who thinks might’s all y’ need in life.” He tapped his head and smiled with a blush. “So, they get on over there, no problem, and they decide they’ve gotta sneak in t’ stop the tentacle-faced fellow from bullyin’ the rest of the goblins.”
“Do they send Mercy first all by herself again?” Rokag said. “Because she’s the sneakiest person who ever lived?”
“Yep—she’s silent-er than any thief that ever existed!” Agrat said. “So Mercy goes on in, but Gorak—stupid, stupid Gorak—sneezes. Now, it coulda been anythin’, since th’ tentacle critter can’t hear all that well on account of its helmet, but Gorak says, ‘Whoo! ‘Scuze me!’” Rokag groaned again, louder this time, and covered her face with both hands.
“Stupid, stupid Gorak!” she repeated.
“Stupid, stupid Gorak indeed! Th’ tentacle critter looks up and sees Mercy sneakin’ in! She tries t’ escape, but she’s scared, too, and it runs over t’ her and grabs her with its tentacles!” Agrat said. He leapt to his feet and acted out the scene, playing the part of the monster and scruffing up Rokag’s hair. She shrieked and giggled and wrenched out of his grasp. “It’s got her in its grasp, and Grumbly and Cas start firin’ arrows and magic bolts from above! But they aren’t doin’ much—the being’s armor reflects th’ magic, and the arrows bounce right off! Cas’s also gotta be careful not t’ hit Mercy, see. Gorak and Henry rush in as fast as they can, and the beast drops Mercy t’ th’ ground. She’s terrified!”
“No! Mercy!” Rokag cried and clapped her hands over her mouth.
“Henry steps forward an’ he points at the beast and says, ‘Hey you! Why don’t you pick on someone who’s actually really, really scared of you!’” Agrat said. He leaned closer and whispered to Rokag behind his hand, “Henry’s cryin’ and pissin’ in his pants, see.” Rokag clutched her stomach and kicked her legs again with delight. “So the beast runs at him, and it grabs him with his tentacles too! He tries to get away, but he must’ve been embarrassed ‘cuz of th’ accident, and he jus’ can’t make it out! Th’ beast drops him, now that he’s completely terrified as well, an’ he looks right at Gorak, who’s, oh, about thirty feet from ‘em right now. He’s got his big axe in his hands, and he’s feelin’ scared, too. The beast gets closer t’ him, closer, closer—!”
“What’s Gorak gonna do?!” Rokag said with wide eyes. Agrat sat down on the bed again and crossed his arms. He thought back and remembered the magic ring he once wore—the same one he described Gorak wearing to Rokag in a past story. And he remembered how it suddenly shattered around his finger, how some of its shards flew towards his eyes and disintegrated into dust before they could blind him. The sinking pit in his gut, the sudden realization. The fog in his mind, rolling in. The red, thick, sticky fog. And then, waking up, and seeing again, through eyes blurry with black liquid—blood—the slashed and hacked remnants of the Illithid. Agrat was bent over it, on his hands and knees. Not far away, Mary and Heinrich in motionless crumples, their skulls crushed. Blood seeped from the gore. His axe laid off to one side, its blade filthy. He lifted his hands and looked at his palms. Thick, black blood coated them. With shaking fingers, he clenched and unclenched his fists in a sorry attempt to get it off. But the ring—the haze—and Finn. Finn couldn’t—he couldn’t—
Rokag tugged at his sleeve.
“Pawwwwwps,” she whined. “What did Gorak do?”
Agrat stroked his beard and stared at the floor. He glanced at her with glistening eyes, frowned, and looked back down.
“I wonder,” he said, his voice rough. “I wonder what Gorak did.” Rokag stared at him with big, worried eyes. He looked at her again and petted her still-soft hair with one big, paw-like hand. After touching her face a moment, he scruffed her hair again. “Well, bed time fer you. I’ll tell you th’ rest tomorrow night—alright?” Rokag glared and looked away. Agrat raised an eyebrow. She wasn’t pouting, like she usually did. “What’s th’ matter? Mad because I didn’t finish?” he said.
“You always do this,” she said. “Whenever it gets bad fer Gorak, or right b’fore Gorak does somethin’ that’d be cool, you always stop. And you never tell me what happens—you never, ever finish when you do this.” Agrat frowned and looked away. She was definitely older. Distracting her with a new story wasn’t going to work anymore.
“I know,” he said. “I’m sorry. Yer old dad’s not th’ best storyteller.”
“You’re only bad ‘cuz you never finish!” Rokag said and smacked the bed with her hands. “Jus’ tell me what Gorak does for once!” Something caught in Agrat’s throat, and he rubbed his hair with one hand.
“Alright. Alright. Gorak… he sees th’ beast, and, well, he says it needs t’ stop what it’s doin’ to everyone. That it can’t scare th’ goblins anymore, since it’s not fair. Trust me, he makes a real good argument. Th’ monster sees his point and it leaves, and th’ goblins live peacefully,” he said. He shrugged and grinned, and Rokag just glared at him.
“Gorak wouldn’t do that,” she said.
“Well, why can’t he?” Agrat said.
“He’d never jus’ ask someone t’ stop. He’d kill the monster without even tryin’ t’ talk to it like Henry did,” she said. “Gorak ain’t smart or nice like that.”
Agrat’s heart clenched, but he nodded.
“Yer right,” he said. “Gorak ain’t a very nice person. He’s not a very good person, either.”
“Well, why not?” Rokag shouted. “Why can’t Gorak be a good person?” She made fists with her little hands and thumped the bed again. Agrat jumped a little.
“Well, things’re more complicated than—” Agrat said softly.
“Is it ‘cuz he’s an orc?” Rokag said with growing frustration—with Gorak, with the story, and mostly with Agrat. “’Cuz orcs are big’n mean and stupid?” His eyes widened.
“What?” he said. “Who… who taught y’ that?” Rokag flopped over and pulled the covers up to her chin. “Rokag, tell me—who said that t’ you?” She scowled beneath the blanket.
“Fiefel,” she said. “He said that.” Agrat rubbed his brows. Fiefel—the son of the human family that moved in not long ago. They’d been so friendly to him and Finn, and now their kid was spouting off the things he likely heard at home.
“C’mere,” he said and opened his arms. She crawled up to him and he hugged her tightly. “Fiefel doesn’t know what he’s talkin’ about. Listen—remember when you and dad were out, and you were havin’ that tummy ache, and he knew exactly what plant to use to make you feel better right away? That was smart, right?” Rokag nodded. “And—and remember that wee bird you found, with the broken wing, and how uncle Cagul helped you nurse it back to health? Wasn’t that kind?” Rokag nodded again. “Bet you can’t tell me more times an orc around here’s been nice or clever.” She paused.
“Uncle Graguk helped cook soup for you when you got sick,” she said. “An’ crazy uncle Tusker jumped in front of that chargin’ boar that was goin’ for Arina. He even got hurt bad ‘cuz of it.”
“See?” Agrat said. “You won that bet.” Rokag pulled away and looked at him.
“Since I won, tell me what really happened,” she said. “What’d Gorak really do when he saw the monster hurt his friends?” Agrat held her and his chest hurt.
“Rokag, I’m gonna give you a tough lesson,” he said. “Gorak saw what the beast had done to his friends, and he realized something really, really difficult.” She cocked her head and squinted at him. “There are some folks who are jus’… far too dangerous t’ let live. Fer th’ betterment of everyone else.” His face went dark.
“You said killing’s wrong,” she said.
“Then you can’t kill people jus’ because they’re dangerous.”
“Sometimes you have to do bad things to protect others,” Agrat said. “There are bad people out there, and I never, ever want you t’ be in a position where you need t’ make that decision. It’s… not good for you.” She frowned.
“What’d Gorak do?” she said again.
“Gorak looked at the scared goblins, and at his friends on th’ floor, and he thought of the littler goblins outside, and he made a decision. He ran up t’ the monster, took his axe out, and killed it,” Agrat said. “And he felt really, really, really bad afterwards.” Rokag clutched his shirt in her hands.
“I don’t like that ending,” she said.
“I know. Neither do I,” Agrat said.
“But it makes sense.”
“So what happened next?” Agrat sighed.
“Well, like I said, Gorak felt real bad about it. Remember, he wanted t’ become smarter and nicer, and he never wanted t’ kill somethin’ again. But the goblins, who’d lived under the monster’s thumb fer so many years, were real grateful. And his friends were grateful too, that he’d saved their lives,” he said. “But Gorak never forgot about it, and he still remembers, and he still regrets many, many of the things he’s done.” Rokag buried her face in his neck and wrapped her arms around him.
“That’s a sad story,” she said.
“It really is.”
“Will Gorak ever be happy?” she said. He chuckled and stroked the back of her head.
“’Course he will. It’ll be a long time, but Gorak’ll finally be perfectly happy someday,” he said. Rokag yawned.
“Next time I wanna story where Gorak’s happy in the end,” she said. Agrat nodded.
“I’ll think of a good one especially fer you,” he said. “Alright. Bedtime.” He laid Rokag down and pulled the blanket up to her chin. She smiled sleepily and he brushed hair from her face. He smiled back at her.
“I’m not that sleepy,” she said.
“Sure, but yer pops is real old, and he’s real tired,” he said. “So you be good and don’t make him worry, understand?” She nodded, her eyes fluttered shut, and she went off to sleep. Agrat tip-toed out of the room. He watched her sleep a moment, to make sure she was really out, and shut the door before heading down the hall to his and Finn’s bedroom. Finn was sitting at his desk and writing in his journal in the dark, with only a candle for light. Agrat walked over to him, leaned over, and kissed the back of his head. Finn reached up and petted Agrat’s shoulder, but continued writing. He was describing the weather, so he was almost finished.
“She’s sleeping?” Finn said.
“You bet,” Agrat said.
“I heard her shouting at you. What was that about?” Finn said.
“I did it again,” Agrat said. Finn chuckled and shook his head.
“You need to pick better bedtime stories,” he said. “Make some stuff up next time.” He put his graphite aside and shut the journal.
“I do—jus’ not enough,” Agrat said. “I’m not good enough t’ make it up completely as I go.”
“So come up with them ahead of time,” Finn said, and turned around. “Or just tell her some of those Blackskull legends.” Agrat sighed.
“I thought of that,” he said. “They’re so violent.” Finn grinned.
“Nothing wrong with a little retelling,” he said. He stood and they went to their bed together. “You don’t have a problem with lying about the true nature of ‘Henry’s’ magic.” While they climbed in, Agrat hesitated and stared off at the wall. “Somethin’ on your mind?” Finn said. Agrat rubbed his forehead and glared to himself.
“Fiefel told Rokag some nasty things about orcs,” he said. Finn raised an eyebrow.
“What and when?” he said.
“Typical shit—y’know, that we’re mean’n stupid,” Agrat said with a half-grin. “Couldn’t tell you when. It must’ve been recently—they haven’t been here that long and Rokag was pretty upset about it.” Finn sighed and pressed his fingers against the edges of his eye sockets.
“Alright. Alright. I’ll speak to them,” he said. “That sort of nonsense can’t be tolerated.”
“Do you want me t’ talk t’ them?” Agrat said and lied back. “I jus’ worry you’ll be… swayed because Rokag’s our daughter.”
“No, no, I’ll take care of it fairly. She’s your daughter too, anyway. They’ll get their second chance,” Finn said. “Damnit—it’s inescapable. Even here.” Agrat snuggled up next to him and wrapped his arm around Finn’s waist.
“It’ll get better,” he said. “This’s a good place.” Finn pulled his legs up and curled so his back pressed into Agrat’s chest and stomach.
“I just don’t want Rokag to grow up believing that,” he said. “Even looking as human as I used to, I still hated myself for even carrying the slightest bit of orc blood. It wasn’t good.”
“I know,” Agrat said. “I talked t’ her, told her otherwise. I think she knows now to not believe all that.”
“Good,” Finn said and sighed through his nose. “She’s growing faster than I expected. Do you think she’s full-blooded?”
“We’ll see when her tusks come in all th’ way,” Agrat said. He covered his eyes with one hand. “Gods, for her sake I hope she’s half. I doubt she’ll come across folks who don’t take kindly t’ orcs, but at least when you’ve got human blood, you’ve got some sorta chance t’ get on their good side, and y’ aren’t jus’ stopped at th’ gate.”
“Why do you doubt she’ll ever encounter people like that?” Finn said and looked over his shoulder. Agrat looked back.
“Well, she’s stayin’ here, right?” he said.
“Agrat, she’s gonna grow up someday,” Finn said. “I’d be surprised if she didn’t leave and venture out on her own.” Agrat scowled, clicked his tongue, and turned over so their backs pressed together. Finn laughed and patted his shoulder. “Don’t get mad at me because time exists,” he said.
“I ain’t mad,” Agrat grumbled. “Jus’ worried.” Finn turned over, propped himself up on his elbow, and looked out the window. Outside, the moon shined clearly, and stars glittered. Occasionally he could see bats dive for insects in the open air, twisting and turning to catch their prey. He looked at Agrat, who stared straight ahead at nothingness while the blanket covered every part of his face below his eyes. It was hard to tell for sure in the darkness—Finn could only see in shades of grey—but Agrat’s eyes shone.
“I know,” Finn said. He leaned and kissed Agrat’s cheek. “She’s a smart kid. She’ll be fine no matter what she does in life.” He lied back down and wrapped his arm around Agrat, who took his hand and clutched it.
“I jus’ don’t want her t’ make th’ same mistakes I did,” he said.
“Of course you don’t,” Finn said. “So teach her the best you can, and she won’t make those mistakes.” Agrat closed his eyes and sighed to himself.
“I’ll try,” he said.