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flintloque-logo-304x90"The Ghost of Corpsemas Past"

A Flintloque Short Story by Danny O'Hara

the ghost of corpsemas past

We return to the vibrant Albion town of Port Bristle to catch up with Miklúg FizzBang to see how he has fared since the events of "Lilith Malone" one year ago...

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You can read the first part of this tale, "Lilith Malone" here on OITW - Craig, Editor.

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"Wooo! Wooo!", went the figure in white sheets, faintly. Even in this state, his Mountain Orc lilt came through in the wailing.

Lieutenant Miklúg FizzBang bashed his head against the table in despair. This overturned his brandy glass, which hardly helped. He was drunk, he had a headache, and the ghostly presence of Old Henry was pushing him over the edge.

Just a year since the tragic demise of Old Henry Hews, and FizzBang was almost a gibbering wreck. He had gained little enough from solving the dessicated corpse case, and indeed it had given him a reputation for dealing with the more bizarre and outré of crimes. With most of their orcs transferred to fighting units due to the continuing war, the Provosts were running on a skeleton staff of those too old or unfit to serve in combat. He still had Sergeant Winstorc as his main aide, with  a motley collection of cripples, lunatics and ancients. One-armed Corporal Smazha was dependable but had limitations, while the obsessive Private Morg could be useful for some types of investigation. Just don't ask him to clean anything. Possibly the most helpful in some ways was Commissary Balzog. He had arrived after all retired officers and NCOs were publicly requested to report for auxiliary duties if they were fit enough. He strode in wearing old-fashioned leather war

harness and armed with a huge axe from a bygone age. Dark-skinned, one-eyed and with a leathery look to his skin, he had obviously been a great warrior in the past, but how long ago was that? A tough old brute who had held command, he did tend to describe troops in terms such as “host” and “horde”. FizzBang had to admit that the fierce, ancient orc scared him!

While his team was reduced and replaced, the work-load increased. Their main duties as ever were maintaining order in a city full of Tars and other ruffians. Every time that a warship came in from patrol or action, the crew would pour out into the dockside pubs and brothels to enjoy their leave. Previously the fleet had been sailing against Elf ships, with relatively easy pickings and prizes for the crews, but now the main targets were the East Valonians. Orcs allied to the Elves, they built tough ships of ironwood and had crews of similar quality and ferocity to the Albion ships. The fighting was tougher, the prizes fewer, and the crews came back to Port Bristle in a more rebellious and angry state than ever. Tempers often boiled over – more than usual even for orcs – and the Provosts were hard-pressed. Senior commanders and government officials demanded more action, and FizzBang was one of those that had to comply.

With his increasing stress, he drank even more heavily than ever. To make things worse, about two months after his death, Old Henry had come back to haunt him. As he had died in white sacking robes and hat, his appearance as an ethereal figure was particularly striking. He would continually dance and wail around FizzBang, gesticulating and gibbering. Not so visible in the daylight, he was an annoying presence at night. The tired Lieutenant was losing the will to live.

Others could see and hear the figure, it was true, but at least they could move away from it!

Without even a knock, Balzog strode into the room.

“Commander!”, he barked with his voice like sandpaper. “Rioting at the docks! Let me take a host and slay them!”

“No, Commissary Balzog. You know that we are not authorised to do that. Just take what orcs we have here and round up the trouble-makers. Clap them in irons and throw them into the brig.”

Muttering about a “world gone soft”, and that “back in my day old Azog would've had them impaled”, the old warrior stalked off to do his duty.

The tired Lieutenant sent a runner with a note to the Rear-Admiral Commanding, to request that he release some sober officers and crew to help contain his rioting Tars.

“Woo! Woo!”, continued the ghost of Henry Hews, as he capered around FizzBang's desk.

- { - } -

With his long-running haunting, FizzBang sought some advice about how to deal with Old Henry's Ghost. The chaplain was his usual smarmy, obsequious self, but he did have an idea.

“Well, my dear chap”, he spoke whilst pointedly ignoring the gyrating Henry. “The modern Temple doesn't really hold with ghosts at all. You'd be best to ask the Catatonics. They specialise in such matters. More tea?”

“No, thank you. Do they have rituals for ghosts?”

“Oh, I think that they just bore the poor things to death, or whatever happens to a ghost, I suppose?”

- { - } -

Making the decision to seek help from the superstitious Catatonic priests, he found himself entering the brooding temple in Workgang Street. The stonework around the entrance was inscribed with blood-curdling imagery, and it got no better as he entered beneath a sign which read “abandon hope all who enter here” in the old script. Dark, gloomy and with a scent of burning blood, there were frightening images of demonic spirits set in recesses around the walls. In front of many sat equally scary old orcwives muttering and gesticulating while blood candles spluttered at the feet of the statues. Despite the darkness of the interior, Henry's ghost was almost cowed here.

At the end of the temple stood a blood-stained altar, with an image of a burning eye on the wall above. With some reservation, FizzBang approached it.

From nowhere, a black-robed figure with fierce eyes appeared in front of him.

“You are not of the faith!”, the priest bellowed. “What is your business here!”

“Err, I have a problem with a ghost...”

“I can see that! He lurks upon my threshold like the cur that he is! So you have a problem beyond your reckoning, and you come to me for help? Why should I aid one who does not follow the faith?”

Blinking at the ferocity of the angry priest, Lieutenant FizzBang struggled to continue.

“Well, I mean, err, I do attend Temple on occasion...”

“Bah! Your Temple of Albion is a den of heretics and wishy-washy blabbering! For me to aid you, you must be scourged and make a donation to the True Faith!”

“Oh, I see...how much is the fee?”

“Fee! Fee! I ask for a donation, you wretch!”

Spittle flecked his speech as the ranting priest raged on.

“You must abstain from meat! You must abstain from drink! You must mortify your flesh with flogging! You must donate a week's salary to the Temple!”

“Oh, err. So I must stop eating meat, stop drinking, get myself flogged and give the temple monies that I can scarcely afford?”

“Yes”, said the priest who seemed to suddenly calm down. “If you can get all that done by next week and give me your address, then I'll call round and see what I can do?”

- { - } -

Deciding that a week of abstinence was probably worth enduring for his future sanity, the Lieutenant returned to his office and summoned Sergeant Winstorc.

“Sergeant, I have a slightly unusual request to make of you.”

“Sah?”, the NCO replied worriedly.

“Well, the thing is that I've asked a Catatonic priest to help me with the Henry problem, and he has made a requirement that I get myself flogged to prepare for the ritual. So I thought that perhaps you could...”

“No, sah!”, Winstorc uncharacteristically cut in. “Such h-affairs are why I'm 'ere, sah!”

“Oh, I was just going to ask you to...”

“Sah! Major Melkor made a su-himilar request, sah! Had me flog 'im regular, sah! Then he did place his 'and hupon my person in a certain manner, sah! I was forced to h-act, sah! The court decided to send me 'ere as a punishment, sah! No, I shall not repeat my h-actions, sah! Will that be all, sah?”

Having made the longest and most personal statement that FizzBang had ever heard him utter, Sergeant Winstorc stamped, saluted and marched out of the room.

FizzBang considered his options. He needed a drink, but had promised to refrain. Even bacon butties were out of bounds, and Winstorc refused to help him. Then an unexpected saviour appeared.

Balzog strode into the room, and gave his old-fashioned salute.

“Commander, how may I serve!”

“Actually, you might be able to help me. Do you know anything about mortification?”

“Ha! You seek the aid of the Catatonics with your haunting! I know well the ritual that you speak of! Have you promised to forgo flesh and drink?”

“Well, yes, I have, and also he required that I be...”

“Flogged. Yes, that is the old way. Daily must your flesh be beaten to drive out weakness!”

“Are you a Catatonic, Balzog?”

“Bah! They are but a pale imitation of my beliefs, but I shall aid you, Commander. Come!”

- { - } -

Following the fierce oldster, FizzBang entered one of the interrogation rooms with some trepidation. Balzog indicated that he should remove his tunic and shirt. The warrior then lit some incense and took a flogger from the tools on the table. He told the wary Lieutenant to grasp the rings that were set in the ceiling to secure prisoners to, and then began his work.

Crack!

“Ow!”

“Do you renounce weakness?”

“Well...”

Crack!

“Ow!”

“Do you renounce weakness?”

“Yes! Yes!”

Crack!

“Ow!”

“Do you renounce weakness?”

“Yes! Bloody Yes!”

But the flogging continued for seven more strokes, and then Balzog finished.

“You have started on the true Warrior Path, Commander. We shall reconvene tomorrow!”

Then he strode out.

“Buggeration!”, the sore Lieutenant spat at the dancing, moaning ghost before him.

“Woo! Woo!”, was the only reply.

- { - } -

By mid-week, the feverish dreams of bacon and whiskey, or beef and rum, were starting to tell on Lieutenant FizzBang. He twitched at times, and his back was so tender that he could barely stand the touch of his tunic. Balzog obeyed his orders as if nothing had happened, although he did seem to give him the odd knowing look.

“Big fight at the Jolly Kraken, sir”, Corporal Smazha reported to him.

Something broke in FizzBang. He twitched and then gave an historic order.

“Gather the team. Swords, axes and spikes. We shall impale them!”

“Finally!”, Balzog cheered. “You see wisdom, Commander!”

- { - } -

After what became known as the Port Bristle Massacre, with thirty Jorc Tars having their heads displayed on spikes outside the Jolly Kraken pub, Lieutenant Miklúg FizzBang found himself in a court martial. Army, Navy, Government and public were all after his blood.

The initial result was that he be removed from his position and confined to his quarters pending the final decision of the court. Thus, having only seen Balzog (who arrived to continue the flogging) and his guards for several days, it was here that the Catatonic priest found the disgraced officer, complete with ghost.

“Are you prepared, my child?”, he asked.

Lieutenant FizzBang glowered at him.

“Yes, priest”, answered Balzog on his behalf, and indicating his bloody back. “He has abstained and been scourged. He has seen the dark and acted as a true orc warrior should. Blood and heads mark his passing!”

“Hmm, yes, I heard about that. Now to business. Who was the ghost, and what was his relationship to you?”

“Old Henry”, the Lieutenant answered mechanically. “Henry Hews. He was an alchemist and warlock who worked for me. He was killed here a year ago by a bog demon, and came back to torment me!”

“Ah!”, the priest exclaimed. “We have motive and identification. I shall start the ritual!”

Balzog looked on approvingly as the black-robed priest set out his blood candles, and having lit them proceeded to chant and rant a long and tedious tirade. As it went on, FizzBang found himself drifting into almost a trance. Suddenly something very strange occurred; the moaning of Old Henry's Ghost came into focus as words.

“Bloody bollocks, boyo! Listen to me will you?”

“What?”, asked the confused Lieutenant. “Why are you haunting me, Henry?”

“Haunting? Haunting! You call it haunting? I've been trying to contact you for months, boyo!”

“Contact? How does Woo constitute contact?”

“You just weren't listening, boyo! I've come to get you to help us poor souls in the Afterlife. It's horrible, look you see!”

“Help? How can I help spirits of the dead?”

“Well, you and your miserable friend could come and visit us for a start!”

“Miserable friend?”

“I think that he means me”, answered Balzog.

“So you can...”

“Yes, boyo. He can hear me loud and clear, but he has ignored me so far, the miserable...”

“Enough!”, spake Balzog. “We should go with this apparition and follow our quest!”

“Err”, FizzBang answered slightly nervously. “I suppose so?”

- { - } -

FizzBang felt himself drifting up from the floor, and noticed that Balzog was doing the same. Henry had already moved towards the far wall, which was changing to become a vista of grey horror. A dry, biting wind howled across jagged rocks and between stark, rocky peaks and volcanoes. All was shades of grey. The trio stepped out of the room and into this terrible countryside.

They walked between the rocks on a layer of bone and ash that cut into their feet through the ghostly remnants of their boots. Both Henry and the Lieutenant winced and hobbled, but Balzog just strode on without pause. Henry spoke to his hauntee again.

“You can see why I've been coming to visit you from here, can't you boyo?”

“Well, I can see why you would want to get out of here, but why me?”

“Murder victims are allowed out to haunt their killer, and so I took them up on that offer. Trouble was, Mrs O'Shazbag isn't the easiest thing to haunt.”

“Mrs? You mean they..?”

“Yes, boyo! To be honest, she frightened me more than I could frighten her. Plus hanging around gave me too much opportunity to see what the couple got up to in private. Horrible, it was!”

Henry shuddered at the thought of his killer, the bog demon formerly known as Tekelili Malone, and her husband, the bog orc formerly known as Corporal O'Shazbag.

“But why me?”, asked Miklúg FizzBang querulously. “I didn't bloody well murder you!”

“Well, boyo, the thing is that after I failed at the haunting, I was recalled here to continue an eternity of bleak, parched existence in this horrible place!”

“Yes”, interrupted FizzBang. “So why did you start bothering me?”

“Took them to a tribunal, boyo! You don't get one over on me that easily. I argued for days and days that you were the indirect cause of my death, and so culpable.”

“So you came to haunt me on a technicality? How the devil did you convince a court that I was guilty of that, and who the hell are you talking about?”

“Dead right about devil and hell, boyo! It was a demonic court, and the judge was a sly devil himself. No match for a mountain orc with a point to make, of course. My argument was that I attracted the attention of the bog demon while carrying out your orders, and so it was your fault that I was dead. After about a week of me carrying on and rebutting his counter-arguments, he banged the desk with his gavel and told me to bugger off and haunt you. So I did, see.”

“So why are we here now?”

“Well, you might have noticed that this place is very dry. Not a drop of moisture here at all. Terrible thirst all of the time for those of us who inhabit this bit of the afterlife.”

“But if you are a victim, why are you being punished?”

“Punished? Oh no, boyo! This isn't a punishment area, this is known as the Plain of Mild Annoyance by the Management. The first punishment zone is over there, see?”

He pointed at a haze in the distance, and towards which Balzog was striding purposefully.

“Is that where we are headed, and how does he know where we are going?”

“Yes, and I have no idea?”

The pair hurried after their companion.

- { - } -

As they approached their destination, FizzBang could start to make out that the haze was a wall of some transparent material. Behind it was water. Lots of water, within which could be seen ghostly figures floating off the bottom and anchored by chains. They bobbed about and looked out at the dry plain in anguish.

“Poor beggars are in there wishing that they were out here in the dry”, explained Henry. “While we wish that we could get some of their water. Trouble is that we can't climb the wall, we can't get around it, there is nothing here that will harm it, and it is guarded too. Right mess it is!”

“So what do you expect me to do?”, asked FizzBang. “I'm a provost, not a bloody engineer!”

Balzog gave the wall a kick.

“I shall cleave this with my axe!”, he bellowed.

“Err, you can't get any weapons here, boyo. Only metaphorical ones, apparently?”

Balzog was suddenly brandishing a very large axe, just like the one that he always carried. In fact it was the one that he always carried.

“How did you?”, spluttered FizzBang. “Where did that come from?”

“This is my Metaphorical Axe, and with it I shall smite this barrier!”

“You don't actually know what metaphorical means, do you?”

“Here I have made my own rules. I have decided that it means very big and very sharp!”.

With that, he lifted the weapon to his shoulder and prepared to cleave. As he did so, a bestial cry came from the rocks nearby.

“Bollocks!”, spat Old Henry. “The Management is here!”

They all turned to see a hulking creature which was a lunatic vision of a combination of shark, crow and goat. Even given the horrible visage to start with, it looked angry.

“Oi! Put that down!”, shouted the demon to Balzog. “You are in so much trouble, sonny!”

It charged at Balzog.

“I am Balzog the Destroyer, and you shall die at my hand!”

“You're Balzog the about-to-have-his-backside-kicked is what you are!”, the demon paused mid-charge to reply.

Which was a mistake.

Balzog swung his mighty axe and took the head of his opponent clean off. Then he roared an exultant war-cry and kicked the staggering body over. As the demon collapsed there were more cries of rage from demons that began to appear in the rocks and head towards the trio.

“Balzog the Destroyer?”, muttered FizzBang. “That sounds familiar to me?”

“It should”, stated the ancient warrior, gruffly. “I am your Father!”

“Err, no you aren't. I'd have noticed that. My Dad is a retired tooth-puller in Dorcset...”

“I am not your father! I am the Father of our tribe. My blood runs in your veins. Apparently.”

“So how are you..?”

“I have come to lead my descendant back to the true path of the Orc! Now we shall strike a mighty blow together!”

With that, he swung his axe and it stuck in the crystal structure, with a chunk of the same flying out over their heads.

“Take up my axe and finish the task, youngling!”

“Sorry to bother you”, asked Henry. “But have you noticed the crowd of demons charging towards us?”

“Yes, orc of my blood. You must finish this task or the demons will rend you limb from limb, and you will stay here forever in this place. Your choice!”

With a manic energy and his eyes bulging in his face, Miklúg took hold of the axe and began to hack at the wall like a berserker. Chips of crystal flew around him as he struck, and the excavation of the wall increased.

The demons were almost upon them as there was a crack from the damaged wall, and a jet of water spurted out. He struck at the hole again.

“Good!”, said Balzog approvingly, as the wall exploded and the water behind surged over them.

- { - } -

Lieutenant Miklúg FizzBang awoke suddenly and with a start in his chamber. The ghostly form of Old Henry Hews stood before him, and the priest was droning on in the corner. Of Balzog there was no sign.

“Well, boyo, it looks like you and your ancestor did it?”, beamed (or perhaps one should say leered) the ghost. “Apparently it will take them a millennium to rebuild that wall and refill the water. In the meantime the Plain of Mild Annoyance is going to stay wet for quite a while. The spirits that used to be parched are now splashing about, and the drowning ones are quite enjoying being able to breath air again. Management are furious, of course. Best bit of industrial action that I've been involved with in ages, to be honest?”

“So what happens now?”, asked the confused Lieutenant. “Are you still going to haunt me?”

“Well, I might come and visit sometimes, but I'm going to have my hands full organising my new Incorporeal Orc Union. There will be inquiries and tribunals, so I need to make sure that my members get a strong defence against managerial oppression.”

“Oh well, best of luck with that, old boy”.

At that the duo made a doomed attempt to shake hands, and the ghost of Old Henry faded.

FizzBang realised that the priest had stopped droning.

“My work here is done! The ghost has left you to return to his foul afterlife, and I shall return to my other duties.”

“Oh, err, thank you”, mumbled FizzBang.

“We are having a warlock-burning evening two days from now. Feel free to join us outside the temple.”

“You have a warlock to burn?”, asked the still-dazed officer.

“Well, one of my acolytes claims that his goat is a warlock, so we are burning that. There will be cake.”

“Thank you. I shall try and make it if I'm not in the brig.”

“Of course. I quite understand. Trial tomorrow, isn't it? Best of luck with that!”

- { - } -

The next morning, Lieutenant FizzBang was led into the court in chains. Major Smorcridge was chief officer adjudicating, assisted by Captain Gothmog-Splice and Lieutenant Gaszh. They looked at the captive with surprise as he offered to make his own defence.

The charges of thirty counts of unlawful killing were read out, together with the lesser charge of failure to follow orders. Lieutenant Gaszh made a convincing case for FizzBang to be found guilty of all charges and summarily executed. Not that it was difficult given the evidence and witnesses at his disposal. Captain Gothmog-Splice quipped that they should be finished with the business before lunch.

FizzBang was invited to make his initial defence, and stood calmly to do so.

“To begin with the count of failure to follow orders”, he began. “I must first ask the court to consider that the standing orders under which I have operated since my posting here are to Maintain order in the city of Port Bristle. On the night in question, said order was being disturbed by the thirty naval personnel at the Jolly Kraken public house. Following my intervention, said order was restored and the aforementioned naval personnel were themselves orderly and quiet.”

“They were dead, FizzBang!”, blustered Gaszh.

“But quiet and orderly nonetheless”, replied the defendant smoothly.

“Good point – strike that charge and let us proceed!”, bellowed the portly Major.

“But I must protest, sir”, squawked Lieutenant Gaszh. “This is most irregular!”

“Get on with your case, Gaszh! I've lunch to attend to!”.

“Dealing with the multiple charges of unlawful killing jointly”, continued FizzBang. “I must first confirm the definition of lawful killing...”

As he glibly tore the case apart, Major Smorcridge began to think that lunchtime would be a long time coming.

Lieutenant FizzBang's erudite defence was of course just him repeating parrot-fashion what his ghostly lawyer said to him. A ghostly lawyer with proven form against demon judges.

This case should be a push-over!

- FIN -

Webmaster's Notes

This story was written exclusively for Orcs in the Webbe and was first published on the 2nd December 2015 as part of it's 2015 Advent Calendar.

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