36 Hours in Gruck
The following is the journal written on a screen found next to the half-eaten corpse of Teolian diplomatic aide Reitherl Durndavel.
Arrived in Gruck on the once-a-day shuttle from New Delta. High Mage Fillion wants me to report on the current state of Gruck for possible reopening of diplomatic channels, a routine affair that happens every few years. Kurwin is an idiot for even sending me. I don’t have to go to Gruck to know that the answer is still no. But I have a job to do and I’ll do it. So I’ll spend the next day and a half in Gruck and take the 5/24 morning shuttle back to New Delta…if I live that long.
I’d love to stay in the shuttleport, but it offers no amenities of any kind and the guards clear it and lock it down at 18:00.
Quickly found my guide waiting by the exit. He’s a goblin shaman named Nugri. Nice fellow, very smart, not your usual goblin. Told me to summon on rags instead of my robes, makes me less of a target. He led me into Gruck proper.
Gruck is a disgusting, filth ridden sewer, as usual. The swamps of the Ogunlands don’t stop at the Gruck city limits, they flow right through. Everything and everyone is covered in mud. Most dwellings are animal skin tents or crude stick huts. I even saw some ogres not bothering with dwellings at all and just living out in the open air.
I saw one ogre beat another ogre unconscious for a piece of meat. I asked Nugri if the perpetrator will be brought to justice. He said no. The ogres didn’t have a justice system. The goblins used shamanism as a means of distributing justice, but they weren’t about to impose order on beasts twice their size.
I also saw my first ogre female. One really doesn’t get a sense of how hideous they are until you see one fornicating with a male in full view. She was on top, her mud-adorned rolls of flab jiggling as she ground against her mate, her sharpened tusks glistening with sweat and drool. Nugri said that despite being “cauldrons of blubber,” females could still rip me apart. He added that when a male rips your head off, it’s one quick clean jerk…but when a female rips your head off, it takes a few tugs, making your death all the more agonizing.
He led me into a goblin section, which was surprisingly less disgusting, if only because the goblins go to the bathroom in designated channels where the water moves the sewage away from the area. Disease is still rampant, however.
Saw a goblin with cholera. There hasn’t been a case of that in Teolos in a few millennia. Poor fellow, nothing I could do.
Nugri lives in a one room stick hut with his mate and four kids. It’s cramped, it’s dirty, but with no economy to speak of here, there’s no way to get the materials to make a better dwelling.
I’m currently waiting for dinner of smelly bread and ham to be prepared by Nugri’s mate. Everyone lives with their dinner, hogs and chickens run free, crops growing right outside. Predators run free too. I saw an alligator lounging around not far from here. Hopefully it won’t come after me.
Dinner was pretty bad but it was food. Hopefully the inn I’m staying at nearby with have some tastier treats. Somehow I doubt it.
I asked Nugri why everyone didn’t seem to be starving to death. He replied that there were goblins starving to death, they didn’t just live in this section of Gruck. He could take to me see them if I wanted to. I declined.
I followed up with questions about the predators. He and his mate looked sad. That particular alligator I had seen nearby had been there for years and had ate one of his children the previous year. He didn’t try to kill it because another one would take its place. No real point to it.
Have to stop writing now. Nugri is going to take me to the inn.
I can’t sleep. This isn’t a real inn, it’s a bunch of crappy tents with a crude fence around it and a fire pit in the middle. There’s no mattress, no pillows, only a ratty blanket and no floor. It’s hot, I’m covered in mud, flies are buzzing me and there’s no shower in sight. I was told to just shit where I stood; at least I had the decency to go behind a tree. I could magically wash myself and summon an outhouse, but I’d just get caked up again in ten minutes and chances are some constipated ogre would make the outhouse usable only once.
Outside the tent right now, I can hear faraway screams as a goblin gets devoured by something. Much closer I can hear the groans and moans of yet another pair of ogres fornicating in public. That term is relative, naturally, because there doesn’t seem to be much privacy in Gruck.
At least they had roasted pig, which tasted better than the slop served at Nugri’s hovel. They also had beer, which tasted like riding dragon piss, but it wasn’t potentially toxic like the water.
I ate my food with the only other guest staying there, a Cybrix salesman from New Delta named Alberto. Like my superiors, every couple of years Cybrix Techonologies sends people to Gruck to see if they’re in a state worth dealing with, such as selling much-needed technology like water filtration systems.
Alberto had been there for two days already and looked like one of the natives with the mud caked to every part of his body. He told me nobody here had any money, everyone either bartered or just took what they needed. He was headed back to New Delta in the morning to tell his superiors a firm “not now, not ever!” He was so relieved to leave he was almost giddy.
I wish I was heading back, but I still have so many hours to go.
Slept terribly. Breakfast of more roast pig. An ogre is coming to show me around the ogre parts, this should be interesting…
My ogre guide is Grogg the Bright, the younger brother of the late Trogg the Genius, famous for being the world’s smartest ogre. Grogg seemed as intelligent as his brother, though this was never proven since Grogg never saw much point in moving out of Gruck. Grogg said that he was entertaining an offer from Academics Incorporated to become a professor at New Delta University. Apparently, Trogg’s departure and subsequent death helped the department because it meant New Delta University had to go looking for professors, which they didn’t really do under Trogg’s tenure. They had already one professor, Trogg’s troll female replacement, and were courting at least two others besides Grogg. Grogg’s niece, Gamie the Wave, had already decided she wanted to be an Ogre Studies major and would probably become a professor herself in a few years.
I then changed the subject to Grogg’s relationship with Trogg. Grogg said that while Trogg was in Gruck quite frequently they weren’t close. The reason was that Trogg believed his less intelligent peers survived out of sheer brute force. Take that out and they were not fit to survive. Trogg had created Ogre Studies in order to create an ogre culture where none had existed.
Grogg saw things differently. While their family was rare among ogres because of their intelligence that didn’t mean they were superior, just different. After all, if they were superior, then evolution would’ve selected their intelligence to be common among ogres. Obviously, it had not.
Saw my first ogre children. They were… monstrous. Ogre newborns weighed thirty pounds, male or female. Seven years old girls were five-foot-five, as tall as I am; boys were six feet tall. Ogre play consists running around and hitting thing with sticks, which was what the adults did as well.
Saw the ogres’ food source: log pens filled with pigs, chickens and giant toads. They were communal property as ogres just took for themselves and kept predators and goblins away. The goblins who attempted to take from the pens were starving. They had been shunned – mostly those who disobeyed the shamans or harmed others.
This was not what I expected and will bring it up when I meet with Nurgi later.
After that, we went to the closest thing Gruck has to a government, an ogre warlord named Bor the King. Bor lived in a large circular hut made of mud, and animal skin and bone. He sat on a throne of bone with a crown of bone, wielding a bone scepter.
Bor didn’t do anything at all. He wasn’t even a figurehead in almost all respects. He and the previous warlords were simply there so Gruck could be considered a city-state, since they had to have a government.
When I showed up, we quickly left because Bor was drunk and babbled incoherently on the throne. Grogg assured me that he wasn’t always like that. I wasn’t entirely convinced.
We just finished a lunch of grilled giant toad. Not bad….
After I finished writing the last journal entry Grogg took me to the Temple of Thagnar. Grogg took his leave there as he had to dig up his screen out of the mud underneath his tent and contact NDU for more contract negotiations.
The temple was maintained by a group of mixed-gender troll priests. It was the most ornate structure in Gruck. It was made of imported stone and had electricity and water filtration. They made you take a shower and wash off the mud before you entered. I was shocked.
Unfortunately, despite how nice the temple was, the ogres needed to be reminded to use it, otherwise they wouldn’t. Grogg said before he left that ogres didn’t see the point. Doing so didn’t give them food, drink or sex. Why Thagnar would choose to patronize a race that didn’t care to engage him is beyond anyone…but deities are mysterious entities.
The main patrons of the temple were goblins since shamen regularly studied and practiced there. The trolls even let them keep their parchment scrolls in the temple library for safekeeping.
It was there that I found Nurgi again. He was training a group of girls, one of them being a daughter of his I had met the previous evening. The rest were other girls that had come to Nurgi after a dream told them to.
They were all sitting perfectly still, attuning their bodies to transmit and receive messages from Ulax, the All-Seeing, the foundation of shamanism. Nurgi said they would be like that for a while, so we had some time to talk.
The training of girls was a brand new phenomenon, thanks to Eluna, the only full-fledged female shaman alive and the last of the Te line. Eluna was well known in Gruck, primarily because it was the current shamen who ran her out of town on a shuttle after her father died. Nurgi expressed regret, stating that at the time shamen would rather let an entire shamanistic line go extinct than let a female practice. After another shaman shared what Eluna’s experiences were like, everyone quickly changed their minds and now shamanism has a real chance of reviving.
I asked if he thought Eluna would train more to carry on her line. Nurgi assumed so, but since he didn’t know her personally he couldn’t say for sure.
I then asked about the starving goblins and why he didn’t mention they were criminals. He said it was because I never asked why they were starving.
The girls came out of trances and Nurgi asked what they saw. The each said that Ulax showed them random vision of people and places. They described these scenes in extreme detail, including my apartment, right down to the blue and red sofa with flower patterns sitting in front of a tapestry showing a unicorn. These girls really were future shamen.
Nurgi praised them and they went back into another trance.
Nurgi and the girls left about 18:00. Spent the rest of the evening guests of the trolls at the temple learning about Thagnar worship. Contrary to what I thought, Thagnar worship is surprisingly bright, putting a focus on this world and the pleasures in it because they’re gone once we die. There was a joke among the priests that orgies were a religious ritual. I didn’t ask if they engaged in orgies and I honestly did not want to know.
I now, however, think that while ogres don’t actively worship Thagnar, the constant drinking and fornicating I saw was the Ogres honoring Thagnar even if it wasn’t official.
A troll priest brought me back to the inn. I would’ve loved to stay at the temple but the priests allowed no overnight guests in order to avoid setting a bad precedent.
Grogg messaged me an hour ago and said he’ll take me to the shuttle in the morning instead of Nurgi as he’s going to New Delta himself, having reached a deal this afternoon.
I’ll finish up and give my recommendation then.
That was the end of the journal entries. Around 04:30 on the morning of 5/24, an alligator snuck into Reitherl’s tent while he was sleeping and ate everything but his legs. Grogg the Bright took the screen to New Delta, where he gave it the Teolian Embassy. Upon receiving it, Teolos once again decided to ignore Gruck for the time being.
Check out the rest of the K23 Side Stories and K23 novellas