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Category: Bonus Content

Story Time: Home

Hello everyone! A shorter story for you all today about baby Tessa. Enjoy!


There were a lot of things to be said about the Harvest Festival, Tessa thought. It was one of two parties that the orphans got in a year, for one. There was food in abundance, and it was the good kind of food too, not their usual thin vegetable porridges and bread that was somehow stale even when it was fresh. People got adopted during the Harvest Festival—not many, but a few. They got new clothes during the Harvest Festival. People seemed to give half a damn about them, which was a nice change.

The best part about the Harvest Festival, though, was getting out of Split River.

January Story Time: Ascendance of the Chief

This one is a morose sort of story, but I missed Betty. If your new year hasn’t started well, then she’s here to commiserate. Content warning for discussions of death, grief, and reference to (and brief description of) corpses.
(Remember, our Patreon supporters get first dibs on Story Time every month, and they can suggest prompts too.)

A teenage Betty walks away from the last camp of her clan.

Orc clans are semi-nomadic. They might go to the same places year after year, but they never stay. Eventually the weather changes, the hunting and gathering conditions change, the trade changes, and they move on. Betty knows she must do the same. The wind direction could change any day now, leaving this spot, which currently huddles in the lee of a hill, exposed to precipitation.


Orcs do not bury their dead. Betty considered it even so; better not to see them anymore, better to honor her human mother by adopting her practice for honoring the dead, since apparently Betty is not orc enough to die.

She decided against it in the end, because she knows that the other clans will hear of this tragedy, will come to pay respects, will be puzzled and perhaps angered to find them stuck into the ground like potatoes. They will find out that she is chief—old Darguuz, the last elder left, handed her the necklace with her dying gasps—and they will cast judgment on her actions, because all orcs cast judgment on their chiefs as a matter of course, and an orc is not afraid of anything, much less critique. And furthermore, how is Betty to know if the poison of their illness will not seep into the ground and spread?

So Betty burns them, as is tradition. It takes a long time, and several fires. Betty keeps her mind carefully blank as she works, and after the task is done, she won’t remember anything of it except the end, watching the fires to be sure they don’t spread, fashioning herself a mask to keep out the smell.

The fires burn for days, and Betty watches them, only falling into fitful sleep when the last one is burned down to embers. She sleeps for nearly a day and a night.

She leaves behind her pits of blackened detritus, as well as the still-pitched tents of her people. She scratches a warning on an exposed rock face on the hill, so that other orcs will not be tempted to go into the tents and catch the same disease, just in case the smoking bones are not warning enough. So much lost. So much left to lose.

She camps, avoiding people, because the darkness of night and the sounds of its denizens are a comfort in her solitude, her grief, as she whispers the stories a chief is supposed to know over and over, wracking her brains for the bits she can’t recall until the wee hours of the morning and then sleeping into the day, only to keep walking, following the same roads as her people always have.

One road travels along a human trade route. Normally the clan reaches this place just in time for a slew of caravans to trade with, or fight with, but either way it’s welcome company. Betty doesn’t see them when she reaches the road; perhaps she’s traveled too fast, without the herd of her family to temper her speed. She meets only one person, a human, with a donkey-drawn vegetable cart.

“Hey! You!” the human calls. A man, she thinks, a human man, who looks at her without the tenor of fear that her people usually get. He recognizes her as merely half-orc, Betty is sure of that.

He speaks Common, and Betty responds in kind. It’s not her first language—it’s nobody’s, not even the humans—and the words are thick on her tongue. “What do you want?”

“You look like a strong girl,” he says, and waves a hand at his cart, which has a wheel stuck in a rut. “Can you help me lift this out?”

A chief cares for her own people, but a chief also parlays with outsiders, and one good turn deserves another. Betty shrugs and lifts, digging in her heels and finding it hardly a trial with the man’s help. She sets it on solid ground, where it will not be stuck again.

“Thank you kindly!” he says, wiping his brow. “I thought I was going to be in trouble there. Say, can I offer you a silver piece for your trouble? Or perhaps a ride to the city?” He throws a thumb over his shoulder, the wrong way.

Betty considers, and then looks back over her shoulder. The smoke has long faded, but she remembers where her people lay.

She didn’t have a plan. She followed the paths of her forefathers blindly, grief-stricken, with no motivation or need to do anything different. But she is chief, and no chief would let a single emotion rule them, not without considering all angles. A chief has a plan. A chief is not moved by whims, but does what’s best for the clan. Even if the clan is only one person.

“Both?” Betty suggests, looking back to the man.

The man smiles and digs a coin out of his pocket. “It’s a deal. Hop on!”

This is the first coin Betty makes as chief. It will not be the last.

October Story Time: Ghosts

Welcome to our first story time! This one is a sad one, and contains discussion of parental death and grief. Please take care of yourselves.

Lydda felt like a ghost.

She was sort of used to being the responsible one at this point. Meltyre had been gone for four years. It was always kind of nice when he came home, and she could take a break from being a mother hen and let him do it for a while. He was really good at it. She was okay, but it wasn’t something that came naturally to her.

Except for today, when it had.


She was still feeling sick. Not feverish anymore, but definitely ill. Seri and Min were almost better. It was lucky they were, since they’d all had to pitch in as the fever sapped what was left of their parents.


Yesterday, her mother and father had died. She had stopped thinking except in purely mechanical terms. The farm wouldn’t run with just the three of them, not enough hands. She knew her parents were paying for Meltyre’s school, but she didn’t know where they were getting the money and she couldn’t keep that up. And Meltyre needed to know anyway.

So like an automaton or a golem, she’d written a letter, rode into town to hire a messenger with what was left of the market money, and then came back to do the things one did for the dead. Wash the bodies. Hold a wake. A couple of neighbors had come by to pay respects, asking what she planned to do next, as if she was an adult and not thirteen years old. She had answered them respectfully. Her brother was coming and they’d figure it out. She’d accepted notes that turned out to be offers on the land and the farm.

One of the neighboring farmhands came at the end of the wake, early in the morning, and helped her dig a large joint grave on the hill overlooking the orchard, beside the road. Make sure it’s plenty deep, the farmhand had said, and Lydda made sure of it. And then she’d buried her parents, her sisters sobbing in the background while she stared at the grave, floating through their paltry little funeral like a ghost.

And then it was daytime, and her sisters insisted she go to bed while she insisted they do their chores because the animals didn’t wait for anyone. They managed to follow her directions while she tried in vain to follow theirs, staring at the ceiling for hours.

And then night fell again, and her sisters were fast asleep, but Lydda was still awake, floating through the darkness. At least ghosts belonged here, in the dark.

Now she sat and watched the night go gray with dawn, wrapped in a blanket on the porch. She had the blanket less because she felt the cold and more because she knew her father would have suggested it. It wasn’t cold. At least, she didn’t think it was cold.

A distant sound, a horse’s whinny, made her look up. A cart was coming over the hill where her parents were buried, via the road. The cart stopped, and one figure hopped off, pausing for just a moment to talk to the driver before taking off down the hill.

Lydda stood up. The figure was holding a pointy hat on his head.

Meltyre arrived out of breath, gasping like a beached fish, but he didn’t stop running until he reached the porch, where Lydda had hopped down to meet him and was enveloped in a hug.

“I came as quick as I could,” said his voice behind her head.

It was as if her soul poured back into her all at once, and she was no longer a ghost, she was a girl, and she wasn’t alone anymore, but she had had to bury her parents this morning.

“I’m sorry,” she said, barely choking out the sentence past tears that were suddenly bubbling up from her like a spring. “I didn’t know what to do.”

“Hey.” Meltyre released her most of the way, still holding onto her shoulders as if he was afraid she’d float away again. “You shouldn’t have had to deal with this in the first place. It’s okay.”

Meltyre was here. It was going to be okay.

“Where’s um…where are mom and dad?” Meltyre asked.

Lydda pointed to the hill. “We buried them this morning.”

“Okay, okay, and where’s Min and Seri?” She could hear the knife edge of anxiety in his voice, but it didn’t matter, because he was her brother and he was here.

“Asleep,” Lydda said. “In bed.”

“Okay, and did you sign anything or agree to anything with anyone?”

“No.” Ghosts can’t make legal agreements.

“Good.” Meltyre pulled her in for a hug again. “You did everything right, Squirt. I mean it, everything.”

“What are we going to do?” Lydda asked into his shoulder. He smelled like library dust and campfires.

“I don’t know, but we’re going to figure this out together.” He released her again. “I promise.”

Gods, he was so sad. But his face was mechanically blank, his assurances more confident than anything Meltyre could sincerely give.

“Don’t be a ghost, okay?” she said.

He frowned. “What?”

“We need you here, every part of you,” Lydda told him. “Even the part that is too scared to do anything but cry.”

It took him a minute, but he figured out what she was saying. He always did. And then he nodded, his face collapsing in a grimace of despair. “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

“It’s not fair,” Lydda agreed, tears leaking out of her again.

They stood there, leaning on each other. They were not alone, not anymore, as the color seeped back into the world.