Ethernaut Stories
Heart of the Hound
1. Heart of the Hound
The Tavern of Lost Souls
2. The Tavern of Lost Souls
Escape from Guk
3.1. Part I
3.2. Part II
3.3. Part III
The Flight of the Mudskipper
4.1. Part I
4.2. Part II
4.3. Part III
The Worst Cook in Grobb
5.1. Part I
5.2. Part II
A Storm of Sorrow
6.1. Part I
6.2. Part II
Asharae
7.1. Part I
7.2. Part II
Of New Friends and Troublesome Enemies
8.1. Part I
8.2. Part II
8.3. Part III
On the Plains of Karana
9.1. Part I
9.2. Part II
9.3. Part III
By the Wings of Dragons
10.1. Part I
10.2. Part II
10.3. Part III
10.4. Part IV

From the pen of Eylee Zephyrswell -- This tells the account of the escape of Kaltuk Ironstein and Nurgg Rockfist from Guk and the hands of the trolls. My friends told me the tale over many an open fire, quibbling over the specific details. I most often stuck to Nurgg's account, as he is not quite as prone to exaggeration as Kaltuk.

Escape from Guk - Part I

For as long as it seemed he could remember, he had toiled. He might have been someone once, but who could say? He'd had a home, a family -- No. Nurgg slammed the stone heavily to the floor, not even flinching as a splash of green-colored water hit him in the face. He wasn't going to think about it, because it didn't amount to anything here in the dank.

As the ogre leaned against one of the cut rock walls, he meditated on the gradually intensifying pain in his back. He was... how old now? He'd been nearing forty when he entered that place, and it had been more years than he had bothered giving count since he'd arrive; more than a fair share of years for an ogre. The oldest ogre in his clan had been pushing seventy, but that was uncommon, and mildly shameful. Leather stung his flesh and interrupted his thoughts. He set his jaw and looked down. A spindly troll grinned up at him with a mouthful of cracked teeth and tiny pupils that floated in the yellow puddles of his eyes. "Get a move on, then," said the taskmaster, breathing heavily and smelling of rot. "There's no time for lying about, rock for brains."

Nurgg grunted. Oaf, dullard, rock for brains, they had many names for him -- all but his own. His people may have been dim, but Nurgg had always been accounted bright for his kind. Why, at one time, he had even thought to forge metal for the making of weapons, distinguishing him among the whole of the clans of Oggok.

Drawing away from the wall, he lumbered toward the block he had dropped. Here, he was no weaponsmith, only a pack animal good for lugging heavy objects. Wrapping his arms around the now wet surface of the rock, he felt his muscles strain as he hoisted it upward. The stone walls of the room shone with a dull emerald light and figures shuffled around in the near darkness, making hollow echoing sounds as they kicked the thin layer of water on the ground. The taskmaster watched with narrowed eyes as Nurgg carried the stone over and fit it into the masonry, groaning with relief when it was down. He moved aside as a froglok scurried up and slopped caulking into the gaps. Nurgg stared momentarily into the creature's eyes. It -- he had never been able to distinguish male from female -- caught his gaze for only a moment and then drew away without a word.

The whip hit him again, and the muscles of his arms twitched as he suppressed the urge to snatch at it. He'd tried that, once upon a time, and still bore the scars to prove it. There was nothing to be had with rebellion.

"Go on then, get another," hissed the taskmaster. "We'll be waiting!" The froglok knelt at the troll's feet, stirring at the bucket of caulking, eyes fixed on its work.

Nurgg swung around and began the long trek back to where the wagon from the quarry waited, taking only mild satisfaction as he observed the way in which the green mildew crept further through the halls of Guk. Every day the trolls lost a little more of her, no matter how they might push their slaves to reinforce her walls. Maybe some day soon Nurgg would die down here, but at least he would be able to go knowing that in not too much more time, the trolls' ancient home would be crumbled as well.

As he plodded on, he could hear the taskmaster exchanging words with one of the younger guards.

"Shouldn't I go wit 'im, boss?" asked the guard.

"That one? No, no need to worry about him. He's well broken indeed!"


Nurgg lowered himself in the corner of the cell as the bar slammed shut behind him. The troll guard stuck his long, narrow nose through the g ap in the cell bars as he shouted out, "Dinner, oaf!" The metal plate clattered as it skidded across the ground. Nurgg shot a glance at it. He was the one they called oaf, but they were the ones who counted offal as fine eating; and what their prisoners received was something even less than offal. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. He'd rest a moment and then get to the business of forcing it down. Before he could stop himself, he'd drifted off into sleep.

Nurgg was awoken as the cell door slammed open. He opened his eyes just in time to see a small shape hurtled through the door. It landed and rolled straight over his dinner plate before skidding to a halt. The small man picked himself up promptly and, wobbling, shouted after the retreating guards, "That's right, run! Ye ain't got the spine to face me standing, do ye?! Have to bag me in me sleep! Just like the sniveling whelps ye surely be!"

Nurgg closed his eyes and thought to himself, "Oh good. A dwarf." The last dwarf they'd thrown in here had died -- what? At least five years ago now, and no cellmate he'd had before or since had been quite so loud. At one time, he might have broken every tooth in the dwarf's mouth to quiet him, but by that time, it no longer seemed worth the effort. It was an odd thing to see a dwarf on this continent, but it happened, and when they came anywhere near Innothule, they almost inevitably ended up here. The ogre opened his eyes and looked back at his new cell mate. Long white hair with a few thin braids descended down the back of a deep blue robe cinched at the waist with a rawhide leather belt. He'd been stripped of any armor or weapons he was once carrying, and only a stained ale skin hung at his side.

The dwarf turned to him, appraising him with one cocked, bushy eyebrow and then, glancing down, seemed to notice he was covered in Nurgg's dinner. "What in the bleeding name of the gods is this tripe?" he demanded, scrubbing at his clothes as if that might do anything. "Have you ever smelled anything so foul?"

When Nurgg only stared back at him, the dwarf wheeled in close, squinting at him. His face was lined heavily and his eyes were shot through with red veins. The dwarf, Nurgg noted, was no more a youth than he, but the old man seemed stout enough. The smell of ale on his breath was unmistakable, and potent.

"You don't say much, do you?" asked the dwarf. "Well, I can hardly blame you. You look as if you've been here a hundred years, thereabouts, and this dark is enough to break even the heartiest soul." He straightened slightly and inclined his head back. "And this hearty soul is Kaltuk Ironstein, once a cleric of Kaladim and member of the Stormguard. Now not much more than an outcast and, as it appears, a miserable prisoner; if you beg my pardon for saying so."

Nurgg nodded and looked down toward the empty plate. The gnawing in his stomach reminded him that offal it may be, but there would be nothing else for supper. Kaltuk followed his gaze. "That was supper, aye? If that's what they feed you here, you'd be better off to starve." As if on cue, another plate slid under the cell store. The long troll nose stuck its way through the bars and said, "Little dwarfie must be hungry. Have a meal little dwarfie, for you'll be working in the morning with nothing else to eat!" The sound of laughter followed the retreating guard down the hallway.

Kaltuk gave the plate a stiff eyeing and then plopped to the ground, waving his hand dismissively. "You can have it, I won't crumble so soon."

Nurgg shrugged and picked it up before the dwarf could take it back. Moving only far enough to pick up the plate, he quickly retreated to his corner. Aware of how much like a trapped animal he was acting, he lowered his head and focused on shoveling the food in his mouth too quickly to smell it.

"Well! You waste no time, do you?" asked Kaltuk with a laugh like a bark. The dwarf eased back against a wall and took a sip from the skin at his side. "I suppose you must need something to mark the days. It's probably hard, isn't it? Holding on to something? I'd reckon so. I was a prisoner once, you see, so I understand. For a full month I had to sit and consider what each day could offer when there was nothing to do but wait, and it did quite a number to my noggin', let me tell you..."


Hours passed and still the dwarf continued. Nurgg had stopped trying to separate the dwarf's ramblings into distinct topics and instead simply focused on the flow of the words. As much as he hated to admit it, he couldn't help but keep listening. Hearing the dwarf talk about anything but this place reminded him that there was something more out there, that he himself had once been a part of it. Besides, the dwarf spoke animatedly, gesturing wildly and occasionally laughing deep from his gut at one thing or the other he'd said, pausing only to partake of his ale skin. Kaltuk was a captivating speaker, of that there was no denying.

"... and I must admit, of all I miss, I miss my children the most. If not for them, I wouldn't spare a thought for the place at all. Perhaps you have a family, perhaps you don't, but if you did --"

"I did," blurted Nurgg. The sound of his own voice startled him even more than the fact he had spoken at all. Though he hadn't seen it coming, the words had forced their way to the surface, and then out. "I had a family," he continued, gaze leveled at the stunned looking dwarf.

The dwarf was stunned. Then, he slapped his knee. "Aha!" he said. "I knew you were still in there somewhere. I knew you couldn't be all gone." He rose to his feet and took a few steps forward. Nurgg considered him a few moments, and then shrugged, and nodded. Kaltuk lowered to a crouch beside the ogre and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, taking another swig from his ale skin. "Now, my friend, as much as I love to speak, I think you need it a bit more than I. Tell me about this family.

Nurgg lowered his head, listening to the sounds around him. In the distance, he heard the soft sound of weeping, and a single piercing cry, and the shuffling of timid feet. The stone wall he leaned against was cold, and wet, and his skin sucked in that cold so that even the tips of his fingers and toes seemed to feel it, numb and awkward. The Nurgg who lived in this almost ruin of a city was not a man with a family, or a trade, or a clan. He lugged stones and broke ground and did as he was told. Could the other Nurgg, Nurgg of the Rockchest clan, come back out after so long?

The moments ticked by and Kaltuk watched him expectantly.

Finally, he opened his mouth and said, "There was an ogre called Nurgg of the Rockchest clan. He made weapons like no ogre could. Strong weapons. Sharp weapons. He had a wife. He had children. He had a name. He did not eat offal or lug stones for lesser beasts. This was until his rival killed his family, and none in his clan would give him the vengeance he deserved. There was an ogre named Nurgg Rockchest, and that ogre was me..."

In a stream of words, the Nurgg that was began to wake up.


It took only five days for Kaltuk Ironstein to hatch a plan for escape. Nurgg watched the dwarf, amazed, as the plan was laid out before him. Nurgg had been here for twice that many years, and never had he truly considered it, but then, the ogre who had wandered in here so many years ago was broken, drowning in grief. Had Nurgg of the Rockchest clan not been broken by the slaughter of his family, and the betrayal of his clan, he would not have been pacified so easily.

Kaltuk traced imaginary lines along the ground, visualizing their pathway to freedom. "It's a good thing we aren't in that village of theirs. There'd be more of them there. They can lock us tight here, but it's all but empty in the night time. It'd mostly be upon us to get past the cell guards, and we're on our way. Well, excepting the perimeter guards... and the scouting parties that circle regularly. I ken get us past the cell guards, trust in that, if ye can fashion us some weapons to get past the rest."

Nurgg cleared his throat, hocking a thick glob of slime to the ground. "This is a dead man's task."

The dwarf pressed his eyebrows together and gazed at Nurgg. "You aren't thinking of backing out, are you?"

Nurgg muttered under his breath and looked away. "We will die, most like," he repeated. "That is all."

Kaltuk stood and walked to Nurgg. The ogre felt a distinct sense of discomfort as the strange little man approached and set a hand on his shoulder. "Tis high time for you to leave here, my friend, whether by death or flight," he said. "We're not young, anymore, not you nor I, and it would be a crime to spend the rest of our days here in the dark. There must be time for one last great adventure for two such hearty souls. Maybe we'll die, aye, but we'll die with glory." The dwarf pulled his hand back and shook the pouch at his side. "Besides, my ale will be runnin' dry soon, and then I'd just prefer be a dead man."

Nurgg folded his arms across his chest and cast a glance down the hallway, listening to the not too distant chatter of the prison guards and wishing the conspirator could keep his voice down. "You speak pretty, dwarf," said Nurgg, "but I don't know yet if you speak true. I will listen, though, if you keep your voice down."

"Fair enough, brother, fair enough!" said Kaltuk. The dwarf lifted his aleskin and tapped it with shining eyes. Nurgg eyed it skeptically.

"You plan to drink us out?" asked Nurgg.

"On the contrary, I plan to drink them out," said Kaltuk, lowering his voice to a hush. "Aye, I plan to drink them out."

Nurgg was shocked to find that nothing about that statement seemed strange to him. He shrugged and said, "If you think you can do it." "Think I can? Hah! I know I can. They used to sing a song about me, you know," said Kaltuk, chuckling to himself, "and about my love of a good drink. They don't sing it so much anymore." His voice grew high and wistful as he began to sing, "Raise 'em high for me boys... And drink 'em low for me boys... Raise 'em high for me boys... For I'll soon be on me back."

Kaltuk's voice trailed off slowly before quieting. There was a moment of silence as the two figures sat solemnly in the dark. "I'd like to hear your song sometime," said Nurgg.

Kaltuk grinned and clapped a hand on the ogre's back. "My friend, if we get out of here, you shall."

End of part one...


From the pen of Eylee Zephyrswell -- This tells the account of the escape of Kaltuk Ironstein and Nurgg Rockfist from Guk and the hands of the trolls. My friends told me the tale over many an open fire, quibbling over the specific details. I most often stuck to Nurgg's account, as he is not quite as prone to exaggeration as Kaltuk.

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