Saturday, July 2, 2011

Loyalties and Royalties - Part 3

This is part 3 of "Loyalties and Royalties," the tale of my goblin rogue, Kazea, from the perspective of her hired bodyguard, Gruzzle. For previous installments, please click the Storylines link!

In this chapter, Gruzzle remembers the sinking of Gallywix's yacht, even while he's preparing to help Aggra and her orcs defeat the Alliance.

Thanks, and enjoy!

Though it had probably only been a week or two, Gruzzle felt like the days on the Lost Isles were more like months, passing slowly with little hope in sight. Between spats with wild monkeys and raptors, dodging sharks, and chasing down crabs for food, morale was at an all-time low amongst the goblins. It didn’t help that Gallywix’s idea of cheering everyone up was to talk about how great Azshara was going to be, and how it was all Kazea’s fault they were in this mess. Hungry as everyone was, the goblin survivors merely ignored him and tried to make the best with what they had.

It wasn’t until Kazea made the grim discovery of a dead orc scout that everything changed… and Gruzzle began to realize just how clever she really was. How else would they have gotten mixed up in a Horde vs. Alliance conflict—the Alliance not being known for its love of goblins in the first place—with the promise of powerful orcish allies helping them out of their predicament? It was really a win-win situation… if goblin ingenuity came through in the end and they didn’t all get killed, of course. But as Sassy laughed, it was “business as usual!”

Peering down at the beach below, Gruzzle took a grim stock of the three Alliance ships floating patiently… containing some “special cargo” that was important to the orcs, as well as a whole army of Alliance soldiers bent on killing them all. He shifted the cigarette in his mouth (one swiped from Megs earlier in the day; he’d made a habit of regularly robbing her secret stash) and peeked over at Kazea next to him. She was equally transfixed with the scene before her, though she looked more thoughtful. Perhaps thinking of a plan.

“Ya think ya big strong orcs can create a distraction?” she suddenly spoke, peering high above her at the brown-skinned orc standing beside them both. “I see a gnome plane down there. If we can get it running, I bet we could use it to land on their ships before they realized what was what.”

Gruzzle looked up at the orc as well. Her name was Aggra, apparently the leader of this Horde expedition. Though gruff, the female orc seemed grateful for the goblins’ aid. She nodded curtly and glanced over the beach, searching for the plane in question. “Sneaking aboard their ships in their own plane… yes, that is a clever idea,” she grunted. “Do you think you little goblins can work such a machine?”

“Lady. Lady. Ya askin’ us if we can get a gnomish plane runnin’?” Gruzzle couldn’t help but snort, removing the cigarette from his mouth to laugh. “Them gnomes ain’t got nothin’ on our technological know-how. If it’s complicated, it’s only cause they threw a bunch of stupid, useless buttons and levers on it. I could fly that damn thing with both arms tied behind my back, and my eyes closed.”

Aggra gave him a dark stare, but Kazea just giggled and patted the orc’s leg comfortingly. “Dontcha worry about it, Miss Aggra,” she soothed. “He’s right. We can fly that thing, and we’ll save ya cargo, for sure. The plan is foolproof! Just need to get to the plane, as ya can see. That’s where we need to work together, of course.”

“Yes… it does seem like our only option. There’s no other way I can see of us getting to those ships,” Aggra said. “Very well. Kazea and Gruzzle. You are trusted with saving our… precious cargo. And as promised, we will work together with you to help us all get off the island safely. Once the Alliance is beaten back, we can start repairing our ships and continuing our journeys.”

“Sounds great,” Kazea chirped, giving a silly salute. “Though uh… I gotta ask. What’s this… special cargo anyway? I mean, how we gonna know it if we see it?”

“Oh… you know it when you see it. I am certain of it.” Aggra gave an oddly-sad, soft smile when she said this, which surprised Gruzzle. Female orcs weren’t the first thing he’d associate with soft, after all. “You are a smart goblin, little one. You will know.”

Kazea gave the orc a strange look, but shrugged. “Ok.”

“I will arrange our scouts and warriors quickly, then. We will prepare for battle within the hour. Be prepared to reach that plane.” Aggra saluted by placing a fist upon her chest. “Lok’tar ogar, young ones.”

Gruzzle sighed a little as Aggra strode off, smushing his cigarette into the dirt. “Serious gal there,” he grumbled. “So we’re gonna see some action, huh? Sounds good to me.”

“Ya-huh.” Kazea kicked her legs a little, where they dangled perilously over the edge of the cliff they were perched upon. “…Though it kinda sounds a little dangerous too.”

“Why’s that?”

“Ya know. The two of us all by ourselves, aboard an enemy ship. Could be risky.”

He grinned a little and shook his head. “Nah, it’ll be fine, Boss. We can handle it. I mean… hell, if we’ve made it this far, I don’t think no stinkin’ Alliance is gonna stop us.”

Kazea smiled warmly at him, before turning back to observe the beach once more. “Ya right,” she said, tucking some brown hair behind her ear. “…Ya know, I never really thanked ya.”

“Thanked me?” Gruzzle wasn’t sure what she meant. He tried to recall anything he did, aside from the usual smashing enemies before they threatened her. But that was all part of the job, right? “For what?”

“Oh… ya know. For saving me. After the yacht got destroyed.” She looked a little embarrassed, curling her legs to her chest and hugging them tightly. Gruzzle was reminded of a little girl, that glimpse of vulnerability that he seemed to see more and more of as the days passed. “If it wasn’t for ya, I’d be shark food.”

He was tempted to wave off the thanks, to make some remark about how it was only right that a bodyguard saved the life of his employer. It would have been easy to do so, and true, too. But the memories were fresh—harsh, even—and he closed his eyes to arrange them just so in his mind.

Below decks of Gallywix’s yacht had been dark too, he remembered, aglow only with the light of burning coal. After the initial hour or two of struggle, screaming, protest, and panic… the imprisoned goblins had sunk into a reluctant acceptance. Some fell asleep, worn out from the experience, while others sulked alone. Healers and medics among the goblins made rounds to patch up any injuries, and Fizz Lighter, KTC’s resident mage, conjured a few biscuits and drinks for everyone to share. Gruzzle felt much recovered after a heal from Sister Goldskimmer and a long nap, and so he stood up, stretching deeply. He took a look around and saw only snoozing goblins.

By the one porthole within their enclosure, Kazea had curled herself into sleep. He tiptoed to her quietly and inspected her; aside from the dried tear streaks upon her face, she seemed all right. He smiled grimly at her and took a peek outside. The vast blackness of the ocean stretched before him, though the sky was clear and dotted with stars. A thick fog seemed to have rolled in with nightfall, for it was hard to see much else.

Gruzzle yawned a little and slumped, sitting next to Kazea. She stirred, rolling over to look at him.

“We there yet…?” she asked, weakly.

“Not yet, Boss.”

She sighed a little, shifting around to get comfortable. “I want to go home,” she whimpered.

Gruzzle patted her a little, awkward and unsure of what to say, though he realized he wanted the same thing. He would take living in the slums of Kezan again over being a slave to that two-timing Gallywix. Survival was important, but… of all the things Gruzzle had done with his life, being a coal-shoveling slave to the Trade Prince seemed particularly repulsive. And it was probably even worse for Kazea.

“It’ll be ok, Boss. We’ll get out of this,” he tried to assure.

Kazea sniffed a little, shuffling closer so she could rest her head in his lap. He gave a slight start, but relaxed as she stared up at him. “I didn’t want anyone to get hurt, ya know?” she whimpered. “Do ya think they all think I’m soft or something…?”

“Nah, nah,” he soothed. “I mean… we’re alive, right? If it weren’t for you—”

He stopped short, long ears pricking at a strange sound. It was faint at first, but as he focused it seemed to grow… louder.

“W-what’s that?” Kazea asked, nervously. She had heard it too. Large booming sounds, accompanied by splashing water or splintering wood.

As the sounds grew louder, the other goblins began to take notice of it. Some of them began to sit up, shaking one another awake, stirring in confusion.

Gruzzle gave a low growl, lifting Kazea out of his lap and pulling them both to their feet, to peer outside. Nothing on their side of the ship, unfortunately. But he had a bad feeling… one that only worsened when he heard a shrill pair of screams from the deck above.

“Great mutha a’ interest rates, no no no, don’t look at us…!” was the only thing Gruzzle managed to hear before a deafening ripping sound tore through the ship, the impact throwing everyone sideways violently.

Kazea screamed in terror, and he caught her as he slammed into the wall, protecting her from flying away. As the other goblins began to panic, she looked up at him shakily, violet eyes questioning and afraid. “W-what’s happening…?” she gasped. “Are we under attack?”

More explosions, and this time Gruzzle recognized them to be the sounds of cannon fire. He winced as the impacts rocked the ship again, and he could feel the yacht lurch, sitting lower in the water. “Damn… this ain’t good,” he growled, helping her up. “We’re gonna sink at this rate!”

“Sink?!” shrieked Izzy, from where she overheard him, and the cry was taken up throughout the cage by the frightened goblins. In a panic, many ran to the locked door, banging on the bars frantically as Gallywix’s guards and workers rushed to escape.

“Wait!” screamed Ace, sounding like he was holding back a sob. “D-don’t leave us! Let us outta here…!”

Kazea looked up at Gruzzle, fear in her eyes, as another cannonball ripped through the ship, and water began to pool into the room. They were sinking all right. And it only got worse as the ship began to slowly tilt backwards. The goblin captives began to scream, sliding down the floor up against the back wall, where there was no escape.

Gruzzle’s mind raced, frantic, eyes darting back and forth for some way out of this. But there was none. The door was impossible to open; even Kazea and Slinky couldn’t pick that lock, and had given up hours ago. The bars were unbreakable, trapping them within the cage, left to their fate. Gallywix and his goons were probably using the escape pods to flee, having hardly a second thought for those they had selfishly and cold-heartedly imprisoned below.

Dammit, this can’t be how we die…!

And oddly, even in all this panic, even as the water was rising rapidly, he couldn’t help but think of Kazea. Praying and trusting so hard that she had the idea, the solution, the way out. Surely she wouldn’t let her investment—specifically, her friends that she had spent every macaroon she’d ever earned on—be lost. Surely she wouldn’t let them down…

“Gruzzle!” she cried, startling him out of his thoughts. It wasn’t often she called him by name like that; he was always “sweetie” or some other fluffy word of endearment.

“What?” he shouted, barely able to hear himself over the roar of cannons and the screams of goblins and the rush of water.

“The porthole! We gotta break it!” She pointed at the round window—now on what once was a wall, and was rapidly turning into the only horizontal surface left in the ship. Despite his vague doubts—a porthole was made of really tough glass, wasn’t it?—Gruzzle readily nodded.

Kazea shoved the other goblins aside from the porthole. “Move it!” she shouted. “Come on, sweetie! Go!”

Sucking in his breath, Gruzzle aimed a fierce kick at the glass, but with little effect. He tried again, and again, with the same frustrating result. But he persisted anyway, kicking, beating, punching the glass until his knuckles bled, until he could barely hit the window right for all the water filling the room. He gave a pained gasp as the water threatened to rise above his head, and punched the window again. A large crack opened up in the glass.

“Move!” Kazea screamed again, and before he realized it she had pushed him aside, yanking out her lockpicking set (the Handy-Dandy Undermine Open-it-Yourself 37-in-One Fold-Up Lockpick Set, to be precise) and holding it like a knife. At first, he dimly wondered what the hell she wanted to stab him for, when he realized she was stabbing the metal tool directly at the window instead.

He heard the glass shatter just before a cannonball tore through the main engines, and an explosion ripped through the entire ship.

Action! Suspense! What will happen next??

A great deal of inspiration for this chapter came from my recent redoing of the goblin starting area, on a most devilishly-handsome goblin shaman character. Seeing all the characters and getting a second look at the whole story really brought back memories of why I loved it so much on Kazea the first time, and inspired me to write once again.

The whole cutscene that plays after leaving Kezan (where the goblins unwittingly sail into the midst of the Alliance fleet) really struck a nerve with me. Perhaps it's because I think dying is sea is a scary and lonely thing (it's hard for me to watch sea disaster movies like Titanic and such; I get so sad), or because I really put myself (as Kazea) into the situation. Either way, my initial reaction to seeing that clip inspired the last half of the chapter. I hope I was able to convey my impressions and feelings well to you, the reader. :D

I'll pick up the action where this part left off in the next installment. Then you can see whether Kazea and Gruzzle survive! ...Wait. :\

Anyway, as always, questions, comments, and constructive criticism are welcome. Thanks for reading! :)