Gort examined his scratchboard, squinting in the dim torchlight. The last job of the day was the scythe trap in the south cavern. He muttered a curse under his breath. He wasn't surprised. The Overseers still hadn't written a work order for that faulty gate. As a result, the dungeons had been getting a steady stream of intruders, heroes, and adventurers over there for months.

If they'd just let him fix those gods-damned hinges, the gate would finally go back to closing all the way.

Wouldn't even need to ask for grease, he thought. Could just render it from one of those elf-stink corpses. Got plenty of candles anyhow.

The worst part was, Gort wasn't even sure they knew about the problem. He wished he could just tell them, but a mucker never spoke to the Overseers. Not if he wanted to keep his bones from being ground into mortar paste, anyway.

Gort sighed.

As much as he hated to admit it, Rat-fang had been a useful little runt. His position as chain-lift operator kept him outside the Dhoom Horde's usual, rigid hierarchy. He could talk to anyone and anything in the dungeons, and no one saw it as a breach of protocol.

Now that the little weasel was dead, the only thing Gort could do was wait for someone high enough in the Horde's pecking order to notice the problem, and to bring it to the Overseers' attention.

He dropped the scratchboard into his cart, and started pedaling back to the workshop. The scythe trap was a messy one. He was going to need some extra mops and buckets.

As he pedaled, his mind drifted to Pustula. He still couldn't figure out what she'd meant the other day, when she told him to fester and die.

Normally, he'd just take something like that at face value. Pustula was always telling lesser scum to get out of her way. He had no reason to believe she saw him as anything more than the lowest of the low. A creature so far beneath her notice, she wouldn't bother to scrape him off the bottom of her perfect, gnarl-taloned feet.

But she'd also called him a troll dropping.

Gort's mum and da used to call each other that. It didn't matter what they fought over. It didn't matter who won. It didn't matter how many lost eyes, broken bones, or torn-off ears there were. At the end of the day, it was always "Better luck next time, you weak, disgusting, troll-dropping."

After that, the winner would lie down on the family's sole, weevil-infested straw mat, and banish the loser to the spot just inside their cave's drafty entrance.

Gort smiled at the memories. Inside the cave. Never outside, with burrowers, sting beetles, and dire rats.

Between his mum and da, there simply weren't any words sweeter than "troll dropping." Troll dropping was from the heart. Troll dropping was someone special.

Troll dropping was what you called the orc you loved. Even if she'd just tried to rip your intestines out, and feed them to you with a fork.

But did Pustula mean it the same way?

Maybe it was a subtle tease. Pustula's way showing interest, while still playing hard to get.

Gort sighed. He wanted to believe that. More than anything. But did he really want to get his hopes up that high?



Back at the workshop, Gort lit an overhead lantern. He took a closer look at the scratchboard. As he did, his beetled brow wrinkled in confusion. The scythe trap didn't just need to be cleaned. According to the work order, the blade was jammed against something. It needed to be unstuck and reset.

Gort shook his head, mystified. The scythe trap was a fifteen-foot long, four-foot wide blade that swept out of a hidden slot in the wall. It swung in a perfect, 180 degree arc, sweeping the entire tunnel's width, and then sprung back to its starting point. It was one of the few self-resetting traps in the dungeon.

It weighed close to eight hundred pounds. Furthermore, the spring mechanism that swung the blade was strong enough to snap a giant's neck. What in the Seven Hells could have jammed it?

It didn't matter, of course. If the Overseers said fix it, the job was to fix it. Questions got an orc's tongue pulled out.

He loaded his cart with extra rag mops, filled three oversize buckets with water from the cistern, and packed his extra-large tool satchel, the one with all the specialized gadgets. As an afterthought, he also grabbed a curved short sword.

After all, anything big enough to jam the scythe trap might still be alive when he found it.



The ride down to the south cavern was uneventful, but long. The majestic stonework of the central dungeons—crafted over the course of centuries by highly-skilled dwarf slaves—gradually gave way to shoddier, more rough-hewn walls. Seam lines thinner than parchment slowly widened into spaces as thick as Gort's thumb. The blocks themselves were more crudely-formed, with visible chisel marks, cracks, and chipped sections.

The elegant flourishes, like the living bas-relief sculptures that howled in madness and pain, were nowhere to be seen out here. Simple gargoyles adorned the occasional column. But even these weren't the petrified monsters of the deep dungeon, ready to return to their flesh forms whenever an intruder approached. These were nothing more than statues, intended to frighten the superstitious.

Soon, the manmade corridors of the dungeon gave way to natural limestone.

Gort stopped his cart, and carefully lit the mounted oil lamp. Like all orcs, he could see pretty far in the dark. But there wouldn't be anymore sconces or torch-mounts down here, in the natural part of the dungeon, and an orc's dark sight was piss-poor for seeing small things. If he'd learned one thing serving Lord Dhoom, it was that the small things would kill you.

The limestone tunnel gradually widened, eventually billowing out to a massive chamber more than four hundred feet wide. This was the south cavern, the one-time home to Nhifoghr, the great dragon. No signs remained of the old wyrm, except a large, permanently-blackened stain on the cavern's ceiling. Scavengers had long since picked the lair clean of anything valuable, including the dragon's carcass.

Gort dimmed his lantern to almost nothing, and let his orc-sight adjust to the darkness. This cavern would be the likeliest place for anything waiting to ambush him. Anything big enough to jam the scythe trap had to be big enough to survive. He was sure of that now. Which meant it had to be nearby, injured, and pissed off.

Gort fished his short sword out of the cart, and pulled off the scabbard.

Get me? Don't think so. Get you, maybe. That's right. Get you good.

Gort listened, every nerve on edge, weapon ready, waiting for some snarling thing to come lumbering out of the darkness at him. He imagined all kinds of things in the shadows. Sabertooth bears. Necromungus mounds. Keening bats.

But aside from his own heartbeat, the only sound in the cavern was a small, distant panting.

Like an injured animal.

On the far side of the cavern, there was an opening. It was one of the main tunnels leading back to the surface. Gort strained, listening. After a count of twenty heartbeats, he was sure of it. The panting sound was coming from over there.

On one hand, it made sense. That tunnel was where the scythe trap was. On the other...

Don't sound like big monster. Sound more like little whelpling, maybe?

Gort returned the sword to the cart, turned up the lantern, and pedaled his way over to the opening.

The first thing his lantern's light caught was the dried, rust-colored stain on the tunnel's floor. At the same time, the smell of stagnant blood hit his nostrils. Scattered along a stretch of about thirty feet, he could make out the crumpled bodies of an adventuring party.

Or rather, the crumpled halves of bodies.

From what Gort could tell, the scythe trap had worked exactly as intended, springing out of a hidden cleft in the wall, and sweeping the entire width of the tunnel at about waist level. The adventurers hadn't seen it coming, and most of them were dead before they'd even heard the trigger spring go off.

Gort dismounted his cart, and approached the cleft carefully. It was around thirty five feet long, roughly double the length of the scythe blade itself. He ran his fingers through the cleft, feeling for the mechanism.

Hmm. Trigger spring still sprung. No blade. Must be stuck on other end, maybe?

He was returning to his cart for his tool satchel when he heard the heavy panting again. This time, it was coupled by a whine of pain. He unhooked the cart's lantern, and held it high.

There, pinned into the tunnel's wall by the end of the scythe blade, was the half-mangled form of a young human boy. No more than fifteen years old, if Gort had to guess. Probably younger.

By some miracle, he was still alive.

Ah! See the problem. Whelpling blocked the return spring. Easy fix. Lucky day, me.

The boy's back was broken, and his body was half-crushed into the cleft. For some reason, the blade hadn't broken all the way through his body. His stomach was split almost in half, but he was bleeding out slow.

Gort had seen it before. It was the same with a sword or a spear stuck in a body. The blade was the only thing holding the boy's guts in. Once it moved, everything would spill out.

Hmm. Have empty bucket ready, maybe? Could catch everything. Save time with the ghoul food later.

Speaking of the ghouls, Gort looked around at the half-bodies on the floor. There had been six of them, if he counted right. Enough for a good two days' worth of feedings. Mostly humans, with one elf-stink man in wizard robes, and one halfling.

Hah. Maybe not halfling. Maybe quarter-ling now.

Gort laughed at his own joke. He imagined going upstairs later, and telling Pustula. Once he got her laughing, he could ease into the idea of asking her out. If she didn't like the gladiator fights, they could always try and find an elf-roast down in the tunnels somewhere...

"Hnggggghhh! Oh, Lord of Light... Lord of Light, it hurts!"

The boy's misery ruined his daydreaming. Gort was tempted to give him a good whack to shut him up, but he though better of it. The human-stink boy didn't have long to live anyway. Why end his suffering for no good reason?

Instead, Gort set his attention to the task at hand. He shined his lantern into the cleft, peering at the trap's inner workings.

Blade not swinging hard enough. Maybe weakened mainspring. Maybe rusted pivot bearing.

Next to him, the boy coughed up a thick wad of dark blood. He spat it on the tunnel floor. Gort scowled.

"Hey! Have to mop that up, me. Maybe be more considerate."

"F... fester and die... orc scum!" He hawked and spat. Deliberately this time.

Gort hauled off and belted him. "What did I tell you, me? Be considerate."

He decided the job would be easier didn't have to deal with the whelpling. Besides, better to get the messy part over with. Then he only had to mop once.

Maybe best to just pull him in half. Already most of the way there, him.

Gort rooted around in his cart for a spare bucket. He squinted at it in the lantern light, trying to estimate how much of the boy's spilled guts would fit inside. Satisfied it would only overflow a little bit, he reached for a mop.

When he got back, the human-stink boy was crying. "It... it cannot... end this way! I... am... the Chosen of Riall. I have... a... great destiny!"

Gort nodded. "Yeah? Not so great, maybe." He set the bucket under the boy's feet, hoping it was placed right to catch most of the spill.

The boy spoke faster now, as if trying to get it all out before his time was up. "Don't... understand... I... was nothing... nobody... Th... then... Chosen... fame... power... money..." The boy swallowed hard. Tears streamed down his face. "I... had... a... Princess!"

Gort stopped. "Princess? You? Little man-stink whelpling?"

The boy said nothing. His eyes were fixed on one of the crumped half-bodies on the floor. Even in her mangled state, Gort could tell the girl must have been pretty. If you found humans attractive, that is.

Gort scratched his head, thinking. "Hmm. Out of your league, her. Way out. How did little whelpling like you manage?"

Again, the boy said nothing. He descended into hysterical crying, each wracking sob causing more blood to pour out of the gash in his stomach.

Gort ignored him. Instead, he turned his attention back to the half-princess on the tunnel floor. Somehow, the little whelpling had gotten her to notice him. He'd mentioned money, power, and fame. Could that be it?

Or was it more?

The mangled remains of Chosen Ones, farm boys, and destiny-seekers were as common as cockroaches in the dungeon. But in all the years Gort had spent mucking their corpses out of the master's traps, it had never occurred to him they might be desirable to their own kind.

It didn't make any sense. They were nothing. Dung farmers. Swineherds. Scullery boys.


But this one somehow landed a princess. Had the others?

Gort looked at the mop in his hand. Pustula deserved more. She deserved better. As much as he hated to admit it, Rat-fang was right. An orc like her would never settle for a mucker.

Gort had been fooling himself to think otherwise.

But maybe Rat-fang was wrong, too.

You were what you were. That's the way it was in the dungeon. Born a chief, you were always a chief. Born a nothing, you were always a nothing.

But what if that wasn't true?

What if there was a way to be more, like the man-stink Chosen One?

For the first time in days, Gort felt that fluttering sensation, like grave moths in his stomach. But also something else, something new.

A warm sensation, like fire.

He wanted to go back to his workshop. He wanted to nurse that feeling, feed it, make it grow. He wanted to feed it until it consumed every part of him.

But he couldn't. Not yet. Not while he still had a job to do.

Smiling from ear to ear, Gort gripped the boy's ankles. "Might feel a slight pressure, you. Some discomfort."

The boy began to scream. Gort gave a sharp, downward pull.

Just as he thought, the bucket overflowed.

But only a little.



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