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featuring Warrior #8782 and the Character #6.

1st theme music:

Excerpt from The Margins: "Murphy's Law"

“Murph is cursed,” the barkeep grumbled to the boy. “There oughta be a philosophical law for that man, where anythin’ that can’appen to ‘em does’appen to ‘em.”

Maurice was a server at the Tipsy Tidepool, a small tavern at the mouth of Kelpie’s Bay. Rundown but always open, Oswald’s establishment was a quick respite for travelers that could not afford the boat ride from Alessar’s to the Riviera. Most used it as an outpost while skirting around Goblin Town and its inherent danger.

And as a server, Maurice had heard it all before. Locals always coming in, Oswald always chattin’ ‘em up for the Runiverse goings-on. But sightings of Murph were day-makers for him. Murphy was an illusive fellow, rarely seen in local towns and usually spotted on the outskirts of common roads traveling with a small group of goblins. Most hated him.

“Nothing but a goblin lover!” they would shout.

But to Maurice, Murphy was unique. An outcast. A pariah. But one that did the unthinkable. He found a place among the goblins and thrived. Yet Maurice had never seen him with his own eyes. His idea of Murph came through bits and pieces...

“...skin of the Quantum Shadow!”

“...hair stained with nightshade!”

“...sports rusty and crude metal armor, he does!”

“...wears a blood-soaked sash tied around his head, fresh from a murder!”

Clearly he was a sight to behold, thought Maurice as he wiped the flagons with a stained cloth. Strange that there was not much known for something that would seem so out-of-place among a goblin horde and not on any wanted posters either.

He finished putting up any remaining dishes and restocked the front portion of the bar with barrels of Briney Bay IPA.

“About to call it a day,” he shouted to Oswald in the back as he rolled the last barrel into place. Just then, one of the regular patrons walked in.

“Murph is at it again,” said Linus as he plopped down onto the wooden stool at the counter. “Gimme the usual, boy.”

Maurice’s ears perked at the mention of the name. He broke the tap on the new barrel and poured a pint into the flagon he just cleaned, sliding it over to him. Linus snatched it from him and downed it in a few gulps.

“You were sayin’...?” Maurice prodded, trying not to sound too eager.

“We were tendin’ our fields, and Goran saw somethin’ at the southern rim of the Hedge. He said he saw Murph and was able to ring the bell-post to alert the rest. Were it not for his red sash, we woulda been swarmed by them gobbies. Had to leave some of the grain behind, but better that than all our gold, livestock and tools.” Linus began to laugh.

“Can’t be with his own kind. Even ruins the pea-brain plans of those creatures.” Laughing crudely, he shouted to Oswald...

“What do we say about Murph, Ollie?!”

“MURPH IS CURSED!” They said in unison. Linus raised his flagon and chugged.

“He don’t belong nowhere. Be happy you belong here, boy. Now pour me another.”

Maurice gave a fake smile while pouring another pint and gazed out the side window, the Hedge barely visible on the horizon.

I don’t belong here, either.

He tidied up the counter and took a small satchel of coin from a half-asleep Oswald for his pay that week.

“I’ll be back for another shift tomorrow, Ollie.” he said quickly.

“Best not be late!” replied Oswald.

“You know me,”

“Hrmph…exactly.” Oswald returned to his ledger and supply book, barely taking notice of the boy.

Dawning his green and gold cloak, a small leather knapsack filled with food scraps, and fastening his signature rapier at his waist, Maurice stepped out into the afternoon sun and trekked northward toward the Hedge.




Excerpt from The Margins: “Misnomer Madness”

With a hand on the small pommel of his rapier and his cloak slightly buffeted by the bay breeze, Maurice walked briskly over beach grass, small bayside shrubs, and small pockets of golden sand. He made a right turn just past Old Emelda’s farmstead; she waved as he walked by and returned to harvesting her crops. Her land extended for a couple leagues, bordering right up to the eastern road of Kobold’s Crossing.

Haven’t been that far in quite some time, he thought to himself. Suppressing any notion of anxiety, he took a deep breath and kept up his pace.

Following the narrow path along Emelda’s land, Maurice found himself at the crest of a slight hill. The afternoon sun neared the horizon on his left and cast a golden glow across the field that seemed to stretch for miles beyond. Waves of grain flowed in the breeze as yellows, oranges, and reds began to glow across the sky. He paused for a moment to soak it all in, nearly forgetting the reason for his journey.

2nd theme music:

Suddenly, a series of growls, snarls, and clicks pierced the peaceful silence. Jolted to attention, Maurice grasped the hilt of his blade and scanned the horizon for anything out of place.

There!

Only a hundred meters ahead, a segment of grain moved strangely in unison, like a jittery snake slithering through the grass.

Goblins? Does that mean Murph may be nearby?!

Excited and scared, Maurice took another deep breath, swallowed hard, and followed his current trail parallel to theirs. Whatever they were, they moved quickly!

The path grew thinner as he neared a full run to keep pace. The grain on either side gave way to taller grasses that darkened the trail, blocking his vision and the last of the direct sunlight. Maurice finally came to a stop as the path disappeared. He turned to his right and noticed that Emelda’s fence was gone. Looking from the path he came, there was nothing but tall grass and the slight hint of his recent footsteps. What little could be seen of the sky above cast everything in shades of burgundy and plum.

Well...I’ve come this far, though Oswald would never believe it. But if I’m past Emelda’s, then the main road isn’t much farther.

He slowly turned around and faced the grass wall to the north, its shadowed stalks rising ominously before him. A lengthy breeze cascaded over the tops of the grass creating an eerie sssshhhhhhhhh that filled his ears. Maurice’s eyes closed for only a moment...

[Vision of an old man in tattered purple robes, purple eyes, ghostly white skin, and a blackened hand in a quieting gesture to his lips]

Another trill echoed through the grass bringing Maurice’s mind back to reality. He listened carefully and was able to make out more rustling nearby. He didn’t want to linger any longer. Maurice carefully unsheathed his rapier and slipped into the grass.

The noise from the goblins grew louder; they were close. But he couldn’t see anything, and the deep purples of twilight didn’t help. Suddenly, he heard a snarl to his left. Too close for comfort. He took a few more steps. Then came a grunt and the crunching of a stalk to his right. Maurice froze, hoping they were unaware of his position. He looked around. It was dark, the gaps in the grass showing just slight random movements. Was it the wind? Or a creature? Panic began to creep up again.

I can’t turn back, I can’t see anything here, and if I move I make noise. Maurice, you fool.

Trying to calm himself, he looked to his feet and slowly scooped a handful of dirt, just as his father did millennia ago. As he filtered it through his fingers, a large stone remained. He smiled.

Thank you.

He picked up the stone and stood, turning slowly. Facing where he had come from, Maurice readied his stance and threw the rock through as hard as he could. It whipped through a leaf above him and was gone. A handful of seconds later he heard it crash and tumble through the grass again a dozen meters away.

Suddenly, the grass rustled loudly on either side of him. Maurice covered his mouth to silence his breathing. The sound of their movement lessened as they tried to pinpoint the source of the noise. It was now or never.

Maurice spun around and ran. He pushed aside the stalks as best he could, their leaves still whipping his face as he went by. Several strides in, he heard a familiar sound–a strange barking sound echoed out over the grass. Shit. He dug in harder, trying to pick up his pace. It was no use. Maurice’s noise was quickly joined by others not too far behind him. He dared not look back.

Where is that damn road?!

The sound of his pursuers had grown louder. They were nearly on him, and he couldn’t go any faster. Not in grass like this. His thoughts began to spiral.

Am I running in the wrong direction? Maybe I’m lost. What if I was running right to their camp? Do goblins eat people?! When is this grass going to END?!

He felt a sudden tug on his arm. He shrieked and tried ripping his arm away, but it didn’t budge. He turned to swing a child-like fist at the creature, but there was nothing to hit. He looked down to see that his rapier had lodged into a thick stalk of grass. The relief was short-lived as he could see glimpses of movement only a few meters away. He pulled against the sword again, but it refused to move.

C’mon, C’MON!

He looked up to the grass, stalks bending around the movement of his pursuers. Their snarls and calls were much closer than he thought.

Son of a RUNE!

He placed both hands on the hilt of his sword. The creatures had nearly surrounded him, their ragged breathing and carnivorous gnashing of teeth were so close it gave him chills.

LET GO!

With a final pull, he dislodged his sword and stumbled backward, bursting out of the grass and landing on nothing but cold, hard dirt.

The road!

He scrambled to his feet and whirled around shakily holding his rapier with both hands, ready for the fight of his life. Silence. The rustling of grass was gone. The trills and noises had ceased. He took a few steps away from the grass that lined the road, unsure of what to expect.

Then a cackling laugh behind him to his right. Maurice snapped his head over his shoulder to look, but saw nothing. Then another from the other side of the road to his left. He flipped around to face it, but again there was nothing. Then another and another. They were toying with him. This was an ambush.

“C’mon! What are you waiting for?!” shouted Maurice.

“We were waiting for you, tasty,” said a choppy, haggard voice from the grass. Stepping out onto the dirt road was a small yellow-green figure in worn leathers holding a chipped handaxe. Maurice turned and pointed his sword in its direction.

“Yes, we’ve been traveling and we’re a bit hungry,” came another ragged voice from behind him. He turned his head to watch another creature step out from the grass, this one a bit more rotund. A single haphazard spaulder covered one shoulder while a giant club rested on the other. More figures followed suit, nearly a dozen in all.

Kobolds.

One in particular seemed to be a shaman or mage and walked forward with authority. With no regard for Maurice's rapier, it walked within striking distance and grabbed a small mechanism from its belt. Upon tossing it to the ground, the mechanism unfolded and extended at right angles to eventually form a cage…big enough for a human.

“Get in,” it said dryly.

Maurice looked to the cage, then to the figure before him, then around to all the others.

“Don’t bother. Save yourself a meaningless death.”

I’m outnumbered. I made a mistake coming here. Oswald was right; they were always just stories. Even Linus had it right. I should have stayed. Maybe the cage gives me time to figure something out. It’s either that, or I die here...now...in the dirt.

Maurice hesitated, then resigned to the former. The gate of the cage swung open as he took a step toward it.

A quick rustling of grass over the left shoulder of the mage. Maurice stopped and turned; so did the mage. They all looked around, but saw nothing.

Wait...there’s only five now...

WOOSH. With a quick yelp, another kobold was snatched into the dark grass. A glimpse of red flashed in the shadows.

The mage called out to the others in a strange tone, and they began to move toward the commotion. As they stepped up to the grass line that borders the road, they stopped and sniffed the air. Silence.

Then a terrifying goblin cry echoed out as a figure burst from the grass. In a wild rampage, he kicked the first kobold in the chest. The creature flew back nearly ten feet before laying still. He ducked under the ax of another and swept out its leg. Finishing it off with a quick smash of his hambone, the figure rolled to the side. Maurice only stared in disbelief.

Is that Murph?!

On bended knee, the figure swung his hambone upward with two hands, cracking the chin of a third kobold and launching it a few feet into the air before it landed on its back, knocked out cold..

Is...is that meat?

“FIGHT,” said the figure.

Emboldened, Maurice lunged with his rapier toward the mage before him. He completely missed but decided to lean into the move with his shoulder and smashed the mage to the ground. Maurice turned just in time to weakly parry an incoming strike from a kobold’s handaxe.

“Hello, tasty!” taunted the kobold as it licked its teeth.

Two more quick strikes from the kobold. Maurice could barely keep up, staggering backward. Another two in succession forced Maurice back even further. Stepping on his own cloak, he tripped and fell onto his back.

“Ha. Pathetic human.” The kobold raised his weapon for the final blow. “K. Cross is gonna boil you up just ri–”

SMACK! spin WACK!

The kobold took a 20-pound ham to the face, fell on its back, and received a follow-up final blow to the chest in only two seconds. Maurice scrambled to his feet and just stared in disbelief as the figure removed bits of kobold hair and teeth from the ham.

“Thanks. Are...are you Murphy?”

Murphy nods.

They were all wrong…at least mostly. True, he did have a dark complexion. But he was no Quantum Shadow being. His hair had a slight lavender tint to it, and his armor was of rather fine make…polished and clean. And the blood-soaked sash was anything but. A simple cloth bandana and road leathers. The strangest thing about him? He carried a hambone.

Several more kobolds scampered in their direction with weapons raised, offering shouts, war cries, and hisses. Murphy was brilliant. Dodging each attack and countering with a slog of meat to their face. It was a glorious ballet of poetic irony...hungry kobolds eating nothing but pain. Maurice tried to imitate some of Murph’s moves but only ended up twisting around his attackers. One grabbed him from behind while another readied a crossbow bolt. Unable to remove the kobold on his back, he turned around just as the bolt was released. He heard a gargled shriek and then felt something warm seep through his cloak. The kobold slipped off and crumpled to the ground. As the remaining kobold began to reload its crossbow, Maurice grabbed his sword, closed his eyes, and charged with an awkward yell, his rapier pointing straight forward.

“eeeaaaaaaAAAAAAHHHH”

The kobold pulled back and fired. Maurice’s body felt an impact. A warm liquid engulfed his hand. He opened his eyes and looked down. The sword had impaled the kobold’s chest and exited his back. The kobold’s shot had missed.

“I...did it. I killed–” Maurice makes a quick retching motion

Having awoken from an earlier knock to the head, the mage slowly approached from behind Maurice. With a staff in hand, it began chanting in an evil tone. Weaving the staff through the air, it began to glow as the mage pointed it toward Maurice’s back.

“I di–ohhhh, I’m gonna be sick.”

With the spell about to release, Maurice bent at the waist and threw up all over the slain kobold while a bone-in ham flew across the battle grazing his back slightly–his robes nudged in slow motion by the edge of the ham. It smacked into the mage’s face with a sudden THWOP. Maurice wipeed his mouth and sat down taking notice of the unconscious mage.

Wait...wasn’t he...?

Murphy walked over and nudged the mage. No movement. They both surveyed the area. Kobolds of all shapes and sizes lay strewn about. Murph picked up his ham and sat across from Maurice.

3rd theme music:

“Th-thank you,” said Maurice. “I would be on my way to a Kobold cook-off if it wasn’t for you.” Maurice nodded and placed some dry wood fragments on the dirt between them. He methodically took a small twig and rotated it between his hands rapidly against the grain of another.

“Here, let me help…” Maurice reached into his small satchel and pulled out a flint and knife. Murphy grabbed his hambone and tensed, ready to swing. Maurice shrank in posture and lifted his hands in a surrendering motion.

“I’m not going to hurt you. Clearly, I couldn’t even if I tried. Just…let me show you.” A few sparks flew as he scraped the flint over the wood. They caught the small tuft of dry grass, and a flame began to grow. Murphy let go of his hambone and placed the flame in the pile of wood.

“Here,” gestured Maurice. “Take it. I can always get another set.” He turned the knife around, handle-first, and offered it along with the flint to Murphy. “Really. Go ahead.”

Murphy took it and rotated it in his hands, then practiced running the knife along the stone. Scrape Scrape Sparks flew with ease. Scrape scrape scrape scrape scrape

“Okay, yes…just…you’ll dull the blade rather quickly,” Maurice advised. Murphy gathered the torches of each kobold to keep the fire well-lit and fight against the cold of night.

“You know, you’re really something. Fighting a band of kobolds with nothing but a slab of meat. A true warrior. I managed to get one, but I couldn’t even hold my stomach. Perhaps I’m not meant for adventures.”

Murph strode over to him, dropped the torches nearby, and motioned for him to stand up. Maurice got to his feet as Murphy grabbed his hambone and handed him his rapier. Seeing Maurice’s hunched posture, Murph beat his chest with a fist and moved his shoulders back, standing tall.

“Up. Strong.”

Shocked at the first time hearing him speak, Maurice hesitated a moment and then followed suit. Murphy motioned with his hand holding his weapon.

“Grip. Strong.”

Maurice struggled to balance the rapier in one hand. “I’m not very strong, you see.”

“Will be,” Murphy replied. He slowly made a motion of an attack. Maurice countered but had turned the wrong way. Murph corrected him and went through the motion again.

I’m sparring with Murph!

An hour or two had passed with Murph teaching Maurice how to strike, block, parry, dodge, and pivot. Maurice was exhausted, but received a pat on the back from Murph for a job–mostly–well done. They both sat down by the fire. Maurice pulled out some dry bread from his pack and handed some to Murphy.

“You’re not like they say,” Maurice stated. Murphy continued to eat. “How did you end up with goblins anyway?”

Murph ignored him and finished his bread.

“Thank you,” he said.

Stunned, Maurice offered a shaky reply. “Y-yeah…of course.” Murph laid down with his back toward the fire, his head resting on the slab of ham.

“Goodnight, Murphy. Thanks again.” Maurice did the same, laying his back toward the fire and wrapping his cloak around like a blanket, his head resting on his pack. The fire continued to burn, its warmth coaxing them to sleep quickly.

As they drifted off, the crackling flames burned with a hint of purple.




Excerpt from The Margins: “Midnight Message”

Purple smoke fills the sky. Close but distant all at once. The ground is polished obsidian, smooth as glass. A flickering glow appears across Maurice’s face, his features momentarily cast in bright light and dark shadow.

Mmmauriiiiiice.

Maurice stirred and shifted.

Mmmmmmauriiiiiiiiice.

Maurice’s eyes opened as he slowly sat up, taking in his surroundings.

Black floor. Purple sky. I’ve...been here before.

His gaze settled on the flame before him. The fire flickered, its purple flames too smooth, unnatural. The fire seemed to be calling his name.

Maurice.

He stood and walked over to it, noticing his reflection on the floor was not his own. It belonged to a much older man garbed in purple robes, with sunken glowing eyes, ghostly white skin, and a blackened hand.

“You.”

I am what you had known me to be. But much has changed since we first met.

“You tried to hurt me! To take me and turn me into one of those…things!” shouted Maurice, realizing his mannerisms and gestures were copied by the figure’s reflection.

Yes, but your actions have redeemed you.

Maurice’s mind was flooded with fragments of a memory. [Running down the ramparts, sword in hand. Bathed in blue light. A lone soldier facing down the Ravenous.]

Just as they do now.

Another memory is shoved into Maurice’s mind. [Here. Take it...Really. Go ahead.]

Maurice gripped his head and fell to his knees; the reflecting figure did the same.

I have been watching. Keeping track. You dream often. And vividly. Of what transpired. Of how to return. Of how to save her. And yet, your heart has not wandered. It has not been consumed. It seeks only a source of purpose. You and Murphy exist along the margins of this Runiverse. Ignored, mocked, discarded. Murphy remains unafraid, somehow facing down the hatred of his own people while subjected to a lower caste within goblin society. You have endured much, as well. Torn from a different time. Losing everything and everyone you knew. Both of you press on, but neither of you know to what end. I can help with that...

The pale figure gave a wry smile.

“How? How could I even trust you?” exclaimed Maurice.

Trust...the fault of our kind. I will make myself known to you, the only one who knows the before and the now. I was The Dreamer, and now I’m something more. I find my strength in obfuscation; in tricks, mysteries, and fear. But I will remove that veil if it helps.

The Dreamer’s reflection moved toward the fire, and Maurice’s body was forced to follow. The Dreamer crouched near the flame and plunged a hand into it, Maurice doing the same on this side of the floor. Fear welled up within him as his arm sank elbow deep into the flames. They were cold to the touch. Suddenly, he felt a hand grasp his wrist…but it felt…alien and monstrous. He looked at the Dreamer’s reflection.

Don’t let go until we are both in the same space. Or you may be lost to time.

The Dreamer’s statement was accompanied by unnerving laughter.

Now pull.

Maurice slowly stepped back, using all his strength. The flame broiled and sputtered, growing wider while throwing off slight undulations of magic. His cloak billowed as the wind picked up. As his arm slowly pulled out of the flame, he saw a large purple claw wrapped around his forearm, its sharpened nails digging into his skin. Further and further he pulled, trying not to slip on the glassy obsidian floor. An arm, shoulder, head, wing, and finally the rest…all broke through the flaming circle stretched across the floor. As a slender spade tail whipped through, the circle collapsed with a thunderous CRACK.

Maurice couldn’t believe his eyes. Before him was a monstrous creature of purple skin, large claws, huge webbed wings, and two large horns set above glowing eyes. His form was devilish and boney, gaunt and sickly. But still it seemed to possess massive strength and radiated a dark energy.

Hello, Maurice. The lasssst remaining member of the Pantheon sought to...demote me. But fate had other plans. another unnerving laugh She sought to bestow me with a new form, and over the millenia I have been given the name ‘The Nightmare Imp.’ Fitting, the Imp gazed at its tail as it flicked around before him ...I quite like it.

“They...they did this to you? The Pantheon?” questioned Maurice.

You ssssaw my return. You witnessed the fruits of their laborrrrrrr. It is why I reach out to you now, why I seek those forced to the margins of societyyyy. Their empathy surpasses all as they have endured the harshness of this realm. And in so doing, they may yet tap into powersssss unheard of.

“What do you want with me? With Murphy?”

My dear Maurice, I sssseek nothing from the two of you. I only wishhhhh to encourage your endeavors. Each of you have knocked on a heart many think is dead…or wish it were. And I have answered.

When you awake, a choice to make.

Keep it in or set it free,

Enough tricks, enjoy your treatssss!

And with a flash of purple lighting and a CRACK of thunder, Maurice was expelled from his dream and awoke to the embers of a dying fire. The morning sun was just starting to crest over the horizon. Staring back at him, wide-eyed, was Murphy.

“You saw him, too?” Maurice asked. Murphy nodded, huddling close to his ham and holding his runic necklace. Murphy pointed to his left. Maurice looked and saw two wooden chests with a strange glow, unopened. They both stood up and approached them cautiously.

How... he began to question but thought better of it. They each reached down and touched it to make sure it was real. The wood was solid. No tricks.

“I suppose I better get back,” said Maurice, in shock. “Oswald will be furious if I’m late. What about you?”

“Have to speak to shaman. Tribe will want to know.”

They picked up their respective chests, finding them surprisingly light.

“Thanks for everything, Murph. I am in your debt.” Murphy nodded once more.

“Unafraid,” he replied and disappeared into the grass on the northern side of the road. Maurice took a deep breath.

“Unafraid,” he repeated and stepped into the grass along the road’s southern side, making his way back to the Tipsy Tidepool.




Entered by: 0x72F6…Ff5A

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Murphy of Goblins (#1204)
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