#8: Don’t Call It That

“Praise to Estel, the great goddess of balance. She, that rooted the evils away from our lands and gave our people the ability to thrive,” said the old Shaman, as they waved their spiritual stick above their head, dried jungle fruits hanging off of it. They had long gray hair and human skin the color of a mountain range at sunset.
“Praise to the trees, the soil, and the animals that sustain us. Praise to the balance of nature that allows all creatures to live alongside one another,” they continued.
I stood up with the rest of my tribe as we began to wave our hands above our heads. I started every day just like this for as long as I can remember. I was nineteen years old at the time, and I appreciated being a part of something bigger than myself, but I also wanted to be normal. I wanted to just be like everyone else in Anglachel. I grew tired of preserving my culture in exchange for never having a normal life. I wanted to get out.
“What do you mean you want to leave?” My mother incredulously asked the first time I’d brought it up during my pre-teen years.
“I just don’t know if I want to be a hunter or a domestic tribesman for the rest of my life. What if I want to live in Anglachel and just work an office job or something,” I sheepishly said.
“Karuk, my dear girl, you are an orc of the Hukawan tribe. Who would hire you in Anglachel? You know that they are scared of us,” she concluded.
Sadly, even at such a young age, I knew she was right. I had gone into the city with my father and the other hunters to trade our game for different provisions. I saw the way the people of the city looked at us. The way they glared at the tusks of the adult hunters, the way they crossed the street as we approached. I knew there was no place for me in the city.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t crave it. Every time I was in the city, I saw glimpses of children of all races playing together. I remember very clearly seeing a young giant boy playing with a halfling girl near the docks. It was incredible to see this little tiny girl in pigtails chasing a boy three times her size. He moved slowly, but his large feet made up the difference. If they could get over their differences, why not orcs? What made us so different? So scary? I didn’t understand. I found myself feeling envious of the human children born in our tribe. They had options that simply were not available to me.
After the morning ceremony, I hid within the crowd to sneak out of the village without my family noticing. Once I made it into the open jungle, I raced through the trees, jumping over roots and swinging across branches. I may have wanted to leave the tribe, but I still loved the jungle. I made it to a clearing beside the large waterfall. This was the place I could truly be myself.
I heard Gin approach before I saw him. His drumbeat carried throughout the trees, and I could listen to the birds singing along. He danced his way into the clearing, lost in the music. Gin’s thin, muscular arms beating a rhythm more appropriate in an Anglachel tavern than in the middle of the Jungle. His yellow-green skin, the color of an unripened lime, shone in the sunlight. Sweat dripped off of his pointed nose and ears. As he finished his song, I offered hearty applause.
“Stop it, stop it,” Gin said, “It is only us here. You can just say thank you for the private concert. You know, I should charge you for this.”
“Of course,” I replied, grinning at him, “What sort of game would you like for payment? Boars seem to be plentiful this time of year.”
He gave me an unsatisfied look.
“Oh, you wanted coin?” I asked sarcastically. “I’m afraid an orc of the Hukawan tribe has no use for it.”
“I know that’s not true,” Gin said, unstrapping the drum from his shoulders and collapsing into a nearby moss pile. I followed his lead and sat on a log from a recently fallen tree.
“Maybe so,” I agreed, “But where would I get it?”
“I keep telling you, Ruki. We need to go to the city. I could play at a tavern and earn us some money. You know I’m good enough,” Gin said.
“You’re no doubt good enough. I’ve never seen anyone so skilled with an instrument that they can call upon magic without a ritual,” I said. “But how would we get past the guards? They would never let either of us enter the city alone, much less together. The only way an orc or a goblin can get into the city is with a trading party. And there’s no way we could sneak away without getting ourselves killed.”
“You can stop being practical any time now,” Gin begged.
“It is a nice fantasy,” I offered.
“It is that,” Gin said.
I swung my legs onto the log and began to lay down. Just as I began to lounge, I heard the scream. A distinctly masculine voice was panicking further down the river. I could see a riverboat, clearly of Anglachelan make, careening towards the waterfall at an accelerating speed.
As it got closer, I could see a panicky, tall young human. He had shoulder-length, unkempt chestnut blonde hair and wore a long black trench coat. He was running from one side of the boat to the other. He screamed again, and I could make out what he was saying this time.
“Help! Someone, please! Help me!” He yelled.
I lept into action. I ran to the edge of the river; I knew I couldn’t dive in. His boat was too big, and if I had any chance to stop it, I had to use the leverage standing on the ground provided. But his boat was too far out for me to reach him.
“Quick, give me a platform,” I called out to Gin.
He sprung up and threw his drum around his shoulder in a singular motion. He quickly began beating out a driving rhythm. A solid blue force field began to appear jutting out of the river bank. I stepped onto the force field, and it began to blink out. I had to jump to avoid crashing into the rapid river. The force field reappeared as I came back down.
“Sorry about this,” Gin wailed, “I’ve never had to use these for anything practical before.”
“You’re fine. Just try to keep it steady,” I instructed.
Now that the surface began to feel a bit more sturdy, I drew my hunting ax from my belt. I had constructed it from my tribe’s ancestral steel trees. They were the strongest wood that I knew of. As long as I could keep hold of it, it wouldn’t break. As the boat raced past, I thrust my ax into it. It was a solid swing, and it stuck. It tugged hard on me, but I was able to ground myself on the blue force field. I slowly began to walk it back to the river bank.
The human ran to the backside of the boat and shouted, “Ve Ex To!”
The river still beat against the boat, but the pull on the boat decreased. I eased it to a stop, getting off of the blue force field; the human and I took a deep breath. His golden rectangular glasses fogged a bit.
“Thank you, thank you so much!” The wizard said as he lifted his head and a startled look appeared on his face as it tilted towards us.
“Don’t worry,” I assured, “Neither of us has any intention of hurting you. That would have been a lot of effort to save someone just so we could kill them.”
That didn’t appease him.
“Not that that’s the only reason we couldn’t kill you. Goblins and orcs aren’t actually as aggressive as everyone says,” Gin continued. “I’m Gin. This is Karuk. Her friends call her Ruki.”
That seemed to do the trick. The wizard began to ease his shoulders a bit.
“They do not,” I reeled on Gin. “You’re the only person that calls me that, and you can only get away with it because we’ve been friends forever.”
A smile began to creep onto the human’s face.
“M-my name is Dara,” the human piped up. “Dara MacCarthy.”
“Nice to meet you,” I returned. I extended my hand towards him and only just realized that I hadn’t sheathed my hunting ax. I quickly tucked it back into my belt. Gin had sauntered up and offered his hand before Dara could notice my mistake.
“You as well,” Dara said. “Sorry if I was impolite earlier. I was just surprised to see an orc and a goblin together. I had always heard that your tribes hated each other.”
“No, we like each other,” Gin replied.
“I’d more say tolerate,” I explained. “My tribe, the Hukawan, stay on this side of this river. Gin’s tribe stays on the other side. In the centuries our tribes existed, we found it works better for everyone. There’s always enough resources to share.”
“That makes sense,” Dara acknowledged.
“And we’re not all orcs and goblins. The Hukawan have orcs and humans,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Gin interrupted. “And goblins live with halflings. Everyone knows that. You don’t need to bore our new friend to death already.”
Dara gave a light laugh.
“She does this,” Gin stage whispered to him.
“No, no, it is fine,” Dara stated. “It is actually exciting to learn something new. I don’t think it is common knowledge in Anglachel that there are indigenous humans and halflings in the Jungle of Despair.”
“Please don’t call it that,” I corrected. “We let you people say that because it keeps you all out. But we just call it The Jungle.”
“Of course, of course,” Dara apologized. “I’m so sorry.”
I didn’t want to scare him, but it was admittedly humorous to trip him up socially.
“You’re good,” I said.
“So what brings a scrawny human like you out into The Jungle?” Gin asked.
“It’s like I said. I wanted to learn something new. I was a student at Arcana University, and I felt like I had learned everything they had to teach me. I thought I’d strike out on my own into The Jungle. My boat got out of control when I tried to tap into the potent elemental magic in The Jungle.”
“That checks out,” I said. “Our Shaman has said that the magic is nearly uncontrollable here. But we don’t know anything about the different flavors of magic. Is that what you call them?”
“Disciplines, but yes. I had actually never seen anyone tap into barrier magic the way you did, Gin. What kind of training do you have?” Dara inquired.
“I wouldn’t say I have the training,” Gin said. “I’ve just always been really tuned into music, and anytime I play, I’ve been able to create different colored force fields. I don’t know what that is,” Gin admitted.
“I would be very interested in studying that,” Dara suggested.
“Sure,” Gin said. “So you were just planning on living in the Jungle?”
“Oh no, not at all. I want to travel the world. I actually have a checklist of all of the different geographic regions in Galevyn,” Dara excitedly explained.
“Galevyn?” I asked.
“That is what we call the planet we live on in Anglachel. And the rest of the world as far as I knew,” Dara said quizzically.
“Really? We always just called it Earth. Because, ya’ know, dirt,” Gin responded.
“Wow,” Dara exclaimed. “I guess it is a totally different world out here. So exciting!”
We stood there in awkward silence for a moment, looking at each other. I don’t think we knew what we were supposed to do next. Gin and I have never spoken to a magic student before. Dara had surely not spoken to an orc or a goblin before.
“So you said you wanted to travel?” Gin finally asked.
“Yes,” Dara said. “Once I get my boat to the shore, I can use some minor transmutation magic to turn it into something that can get me across the sea.”
Dara paused and considered his beached boat on the river bank.
“But I don’t know how I’ll get it there,” he said, seemingly noticing for the first time. “I guess I have to go back to town already. Everyone’s going to make fun of me.”
“I could help,” I chimed in.
“Yeah?” Dara asked. “You’d do that for a person you just met? That’s so nice.”
“I never said I was doing anything for free,” I said directly.
“My coin is pretty limited,” he began.
“No, don’t pay in coin!” Gin said. I glared at him. What was he doing? We needed this coin to get out. “You can pay us by letting us go with you!”
“That’s fine with me,” Dara said. “After seeing the two of you handle yourselves earlier, you could be instrumental in having around.”
“Nice pun,” Dara guffawed.
“One moment,” I interjected. I grabbed Gin by his arm and dragged him away from Dara.
“What are you talking about?” I demanded. “We can’t just go. We have to plan. We have to pack. We haven’t even said goodbye to our families.”
“Do you really think your mom or dad would just let you go if you told them? I don’t know about your tribe, but I’d heard stories of goblins thrown in cages by their brethren because they were saying crazy things like going into the city alone.”
“No, I have heard those too. Our people’s position with the city is so precarious, they can’t risk a bad apple messing everything up,” I remembered.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Gin smugly said. “How many chances are we going to get like this? A magic human showed up, WITH a friggin’ boat? I’ve got my drum, you have your ax. How is that not a sign? We have to go with him.”
I considered his words for a moment. I’d spent my whole life praising Estel, the goddess of balance. In a way, this may be the only way Gin, and I could get away from our tribes. After two centuries of orcs and goblins being stuck in this jungle. Maybe this is tipping the balance for our people. Even if only slightly.
I dragged Gin back to Dara.
“I can walk, ya’ know,” Gin complained.
“We will go with you,” I said.
“Cool!” Dara said. “So are you going to carry this boat by yourself or . . . . “
“I can handle one side. The two of you are going to have to try to hold the other side up, so it doesn’t drag,” I instructed.
“I’m a musician, Ruki,” Gin said. “I don’t really do manual labor.”
“What am I getting myself into?” I asked myself aloud as I picked up the front end of the boat.


These stories serve as inspiration for the upcoming short story collection, Tyranny of the Fey. The collection will be released in Fall 2023. You can get a $1 preview now!


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