This week on ‘Fiction Fridays’ it’s chapter 3 of Ghets. We visit Ghetshaven and Reez learns of the consequence of her last job. Hope you enjoy!
You can find Chapters 1 and 2 here
Reez stared at the wilting leaves of her Mawba plant. Odvid had gotten the plant for her because it was notoriously hard to kill. You could feed it water or booze, plant it in soil or in a bowl of steam and it would still prosper. If the Mawba’s leaves weren’t a pretty red-brown with maroon flowers, and if it didn’t take forever to grow and spread, it might have been considered a weed. It even grew in the Under-Kingdoms way beneath the earth, that was how little care it needed. And yet, Reez was still managing to kill hers.
As an orc that should have been a point of pride, she could kill anything. But Reez just huffed and fed the plant some more wine, hoping that would perk it up. Wine usually had that effect on Reez…usually. She had been in a funk the last couple of weeks and even going out for drinks with her team wasn’t doing it for her.
Reez was sure it was her little apartment in Ghetshaven. She was getting bored and claustrophobic. It had absolutely nothing to do with lingering guilt about stealing some redheaded human girl in the middle of the night. No, what Reez needed was to get out of town on some job. After guiding caravans through The Bitter Pass or hunting for treasure in Ruinsway she’d be back to her old self. Satisfied with the plan, Reez split the remainder of her wine with her plant and headed out for Oath Hall.
It was raining out on the Neradoomin side of town, so Reez kept to the streets on the Aphetrrian side where it was nice and sunny. Reez was fortunate enough to grab an apartment on Godless Isle. Godless was the old part of Ghetshaven and sat right in the middle of The River of the Great Divide (or just the Divide, as the locals called it.). Godless Isle was one of the few borders between Aphetrria and Neradoom where you could simply walk across from one land to the other.
Godless also had easy access to Gate Square and Oath Hall, as well as any guild or merchant offices Reez might need to visit. But it wasn’t cheap. Reez’s team went in for bigger places on either side of the Divide, placing them in Aphetrria or Neradoom proper.
Reez scoured the pre-written contracts and job posting at Oath Hall. There was a survey team looking to build a temple in the Ourobori jungle and needed a guide. Perfect. The Okkore was opening a Gate to Morjara today, and according to the schedule there’d be a Gate open in Ghoneshi on the other side of the jungle on the fifteenth. It would be a quick four-day job, three nights in the jungle, and then to Ghoneshi, to take the Gate home. Reez grabbed it.
Reez stopped by the post to send a quick a note to Odvid letting him know she’d be out of town and see if he could work some magic to fix her plant. He was a mage as well as a healer after all. And then Reez headed to Gate Square. She’d pick up some supplies in the bazaar that was held between the gates before heading to Morjara.
The Orc Fortress of Korragorra loomed before Reez. The Orcs had their own sprawling city on Godless Ilse. Ghetshaven lived in the shadow of it, leeching off the trade and travelers that used the Gates. The Gates technically belonged to the Okkore, the closest thing the orcs had to a kingdom. Only Orc shamans could operate and maintain Kor’s Thirteen Gates and each Gate was a portal to an Orc barracks in either Aphetrria or Neradoom.
There was a time when the Okkore didn’t like sharing the gates. They understood the gates’ full military potential and used them to send armies all over the world. Armies they kept resupplied and reinforced thanks to the gates all leading back to their chief fortress of Korragorra. The thirteen gates helped the orcs conquer both Aphetrria and Neradoom and for a hundred years the Okkore had ruled the world putting an end to the Deinomachy and enforcing Kor’s peace.
But the Orc Empire didn’t last, the gods wanted the Deinomachy too bad and the orcs were almost wiped out. The Okkore that now ruled Korragorra was a very different beast than the one that had conquered the world. It was leaner, more cautious and more cunning.
The new Okkore opened Gate square to the merchants of Ghetshaven. It employed Ghets, sending them on trading missions to guilds, kings, pit lords and chieftains. It re-ranged the arch totems, the gate exits, building barracks with totems near major ports and crossroads. It paid to lease arch totems in the capital cities of every kingdom on either side of the Divide.
The new Okkore did everything it could to promote travel and trade between Aphetrria and Neradoom. If Kor’s peace couldn’t be won through the sword, the orcs were going to see if they could buy it. So far it had been working. There hadn’t been a major war between Aphetrria and Neradoom since the Elven retaliation thirty years ago.
Reez passed the Okkore’s contraband checkpoints and entered Gate Square. Gate Square was a giant courtyard that held the Gates and a daily bazaar. Merchants set up stalls along the lanes leading to and from the thirteen gates, trying to pick up trade from the thousands of travelers that passed through the gates each day. The square was unlike anywhere else in the world and always made Reez get philosophical, reminding her of ‘the churn of creation’. The early days of existence when there was only Apherria and Neradogtha. In the churn chaos chased order, order chased chaos, the forces came together, and broke apart again. It was balanced, yet volatile, Apherria and Neradogatha expressed as a single primal force, that was the churn, and that was Gate Square.
Lanes of merchant caravans streamed from one gate, narrowly avoiding getting tangled with the reins and wagons of caravans coming from the opposite direction. A mass of messy pilgrims bumbled through the bazaar like gawking tourists. The pilgrims’ Ghets did everything they could to shepherd them along, while merchants shoved trinkets, charms and idols in their faces and shouted of deals and wonders.
The smoky scent of barbeque blended with the spices of curry, the honey of glazed nuts and the steaming stench of dung produced by a thousand different types of draft animals. Barkers shouted in Xunese, Loir’ve, and Kul, before repeating everything in Common, trying to entice travelers to the inns and gambling dens in Ghetshaven proper. Agents of various guilds and merchant companies ran across the bazaar directing their caravans to the correct Gate or warehouse. Most caravans would have to spend a couple of nights in Ghetshaven while they waited for their destination to come up. Kor only had thirteen gates and they needed to be changed to a new location every morning.
The Okkore was a heavy presence in the square. Okkore sergeants prowled the Gate lanes, pushing aggressive vendors to the side to make room and halting traffic to let orc warriors march between gates. The orc sergeants cleared up messes and directed complaining merchants to Oath Hall in Ghetshaven where their dispute would be overseen by Aphetrrian law masters and Neradoomin judges.
Confusion erupted everywhere in the square, there was a mess of different peoples, each speaking different languages, with different biology and wildly different customs. And yet that confusion was quickly sorted and shifted, if not completely dispelled thanks to the tight routines and layout of the square and the discipline of experienced guards and guides. This wonderful, beautiful place of managed chaos was all thanks to the symbiotic relationship between the Ghets and the Okkore.
Reez felt some pride in that, since she was both an orc and a Ghets. She bought some dry goods from a salt merchant representing the Roohr League and a new water sack from a Dairkkul Skin-Smith, before chatting with her friend Monoko who dealt in mounts and then heading over to an apothecary stall to haggle over bug ointment. Finally, fully stocked for the excursion, Reez bought a roasted frog on a stick for a quick lunch and headed to Gate Four to start her job.
Reez, and everyone in her lane, was stopped by an Orc sergeant to let an Okkore unit of pikemen march out of the gate. It was always strange to watch people exiting the gates. They looked like they were just walking into the bazaar from another entrance rather than traveling leagues in an instance.
Each gate was a portal that sat in a giant doorway carved into the walls of Gate Square The substance that made up the portals were hard to describe. It was a spiral. The ether of Neradoom and Aphetrria coming together in one swirling blend, the churn again, light chasing darkness, darkness chasing light. You didn’t really feel anything when you touched the portals. You just stepped through them like a regular door and were transported to whatever spot had the active arch totem.
Most of the gate exits weren’t as big as the gate entrances in Korragorra. There were a lot of rules to the gates, the orcs had a whole class of shamans dedicated to them, and Reez didn’t know all the particulars, but she did know that each gate exit had to be an archway, at least a mini version of the doorway in Korragorra. The gates were fascinating and a gucking miracle, but like any miracle people got used to them and started to take them for granted, like the indignant merchant that pushed himself ahead of everyone in Reez’s lane.
“You’re doing this again?” The merchant shouted at the orc sergeant, “I’ve been halted five times today already, once for two hours to let your people through. You own these gates! Get organized! Do your nonsense in the morning before you open the square! It’s not hard.”
The orc sergeant reminded silent and kept her face cool. Unlike the civilized orc, most peoples found it rude to be punched in the face when they said something stupid.
Luckily, Reez was there.
“Hey friend,” She said tapping the merchant on the shoulder.
“What is it?” He said spinning around. “Oh for the love of Apherria another one,” He said looking Reez up and down. “Are you this one’s superior? Because—”
“Because what?” Reez said leaning in. “Just because it’s the middle of the day in Ghetshaven doesn’t mean it’s noon in Morjara. What? Every orc should abandon their post in the middle of the night just because it impedes you by a couple of hours? The gates are a literal gift from the gods! Stop whining and get back in the gucking line.”
The merchant looked like he was going to say more, but Reez smiled at him, big and hungry like and that was enough for him to scurry back to his waiting pack animals.
Reez winked at the orc sergeant after the merchant retreated. She was young, probably only about sixteen. “Had to do gate duty during my training too, don’t let these gunkers get you down.”
The sergeant didn’t reply. Reez stood there in awkward silence while the last Orc pike man passed. Before letting everyone go the orc sergeant spat at Reez’s feet and muttered “Traitor”.
Reez immediately felt an emotion too hot to be called shame and too heartbreaking to be called rage. Her smile deflated, and she sunk into the crowd of merchants and travelers that flooded into Gate Four. Sometimes Reez let herself forget everything that had happened between her and the Okkore. It was generous of her, the Okkore had taken more from her than it had given. But just because Reez was willing to be generous didn’t mean the Okkore reciprocated. At best they tolerated her, seeking to forget that she was ever a part of them at all. To the Okkore Reez was no different than the pushy merchant, just another traveler using the gates.
But that was okay, Reez liked being a ghets more than she ever liked being Okkore warrior. She stepped through the gate and got to work.
Reez’s job in the jungle was mostly okay, but Reez only got into one measly fight and the gig was over way too quick. Reez found herself in Ghoneshi with a whole day to spare. Usually, under those circumstances she’d do some sightseeing, but Ghoneshi was a Darikkul city and it was all a buzz over the latest news. And what news it was, Reez stayed in her inn soaking it all in, growing increasingly pale.
According to the local gossip, Lord Maelator had pulled ahead from his rivals and was on the verge of taking the Black Spire. Maelator had always been a contender, but his sudden success had come when he converted his staunchest enemies into allies. He accomplished this by doing something that no Dairkkul outside of a Dark Lord had achieved before. He kidnapped the avatar of an elven god. The girl was proof that Maelator wasn’t just seeking the Black Spire for himself, but for mother Neradogtha. For surely, he would use the power of the Dark Lord to marshal all the fiends to him and restart the Deinomachy.
Reez almost fainted when she heard about the avatar. She ordered ‘literally all the wine they gucking had’ and asked her Dairkkul drinking companions to go over the news again.
“Maelator stole an elven avatar?” Reez said, “But I, um, heard the girl was a human.”
“She is! She is!” The Dairkkul said excitedly, sloshing his drinking dish “An Aphetrrian human with red hair and green eyes, just like the god.
“But how can a human be—”
“I don’t know” The Dairkkul said slurping up his liquor “It’s Aphetrria they have so many constricting rules. I don’t know how people survive under that tyranny. But apparently, they have humans there too, and this one is the avatar of a god, the elves have said so themselves! They’re calling for their heroes to form a fellowship to win her back. Maybe we’ll get a proper war again!”
Reez snatched the wine jug out of the innkeeper’s hands and immediately started guzzling. There was no way this was happening. Crow had signed contracts, made promises! Reez felt her forehead. The orcs were going to call her a lot worse than ‘traitor’ if they found out she was the Ghets that orchestrated this.
“Do you know which god this avatar is supposed to be? Reez asked.”
The Dairkkul smiled. “The bad one. The worst one. Wicked Anudica, the Goddess of war.”