Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stepdaughter of the Dark Lord--Part 3

Viviane du Lac sipped her tea. “I really hope we’re not causing too much trouble for you…” she noted with an apologetic glance at her sister-in-law.

Her youthful-looking companion was adding a few lumps of sugar to her own cup. “Heh. You guys aren’t trouble. If you had any idea what this place has seen, you’d know that. I mean--Great-Uncle Nerghal--Father--Falerina--unholy darkness, Falerina.” Morgaine Cthonique shook her head, and then took a sip. “Fact is--Nissy and I are thrilled that Manny’s found someone--well--nice.” She added another lump of sugar to the tea. “He deserves a bit of happiness after all the crap Dad put him through.” She took another sip, nodded slightly, and began to gulp down her cup.

Viviane looked away, and took another sip. “I’d have said you all deserved happiness after what he put you through.” She glanced at Morgaine again, then furtively glanced away. “You most of all.”

Morgaine was scooping up the sugar remnants on the bottom of her cup with her spoon. “Oh, I’ve gotten used to the whole ‘murdered’ thing.” She stuffed the spoon into her mouth. “Really--undeath’s--mmph--not such a--big deal--once you adjust.” She swallowed, and then smiled at Viviane. “Honestly, I think more people should consider it.”

Viviane chuckled despite herself. “I don’t think it’s an option for them…”

Morgaine raised an eyebrow, her expression quite serious. “I’m working on that.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of quickly-moving footsteps. “Hey, Mommy Viv! Hey, Auntie Morgaine!” Malina Cthonique bounded into the chamber, smiling broadly, a black cape trailing behind her.

Viviane turned towards her, somewhat startled. “Hello, Mal. Isn’t it your naptime?”

Malina giggled. “Not sleepy.” She looked around eagerly, her bright red eyes curious. “Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s talking to Sis right now.” Viviane gave Malina a serious look. “But, Malina, didn’t we discuss this? How you need to sleep during naptime?”

“But I didn’t want to, Mommy Viv! It’s boring!” cried Malina.

“I know, dear. But sometimes, we have to do things we don’t want to.”

Malina glanced at the floor, and began to fiddle nervously with her horns. “Are you still angry ‘bout Sis going up to the Tower of Melon Collie?” She looked up interested. “Is this what Daddy’s talking to her ‘bout?”

“That’s playing a part,” began Viviane. “But--”

“’Kay, Mommy Viv!” declared Malina brightly. “I’ll go fix it!” And then with a loud pop she vanished.

Viviane and Morgaine stared at the empty spot where Malina had been with some alarm. “I forget how good she is at that,” said Viviane quietly.

Morgaine stood up. “Yep. Regular prodigy. Now--I have a feeling we should get outside…”

Viviane nodded. “Yeah, me too.”

As they headed to the door, Morgaine commented, “You know, I keep telling you--a zombie nanny would be the per--”

“No, Morgaine,” said Viviane. “Just--no.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stepdaughter of the Dark Lord--Part 2

Elaine du Lac was writing in her diary.

Mom says that wherever you go, it’s the same sky. It’s not true here. Here, the sky is grey, dingy, and ugly. I hate it. I hate it here. I want to go back home. Our real home. Not this--fake home I‘ve been dragged to since IT happened. It’s horr--

A great sound of wings broke her concentration. A gryphon was hovering overhead, looking at her with a rather baleful eye, while her stepfather, the Dark Lord Mansemat Cthonique rode on its back. “Hello, Elaine,” he stated in tones of rather forced pleasantness. “I believe you and I should have a friendly chat. If you don’t mind, of course.” And here he forced a grin he doubtless thought was reassuring onto his bone-white face.

Elaine scowled at him, brushed away a stray lock of her hair, and went back to finishing her journal entry. --ible. Just horrible. She thought about writing some more, but by now the smell of the gryphon was reaching her. Even though she’d been around them for three months now, she still wasn’t used to that--stench. In a way, his gryphons were a lot like Lord Mansemat--as impressive as they sounded, the reality left a lot to be desired. In the stories Elaine always heard, gryphons were fierce and majestic, a perfect blend of lion and eagle. Real gryphons were ill-tempered and scruffy, and looked sort of like deformed birds with four legs. Also they molted constantly, preferred their meat a little on the rotten side, and snapped at anybody they weren’t familiar with. Mansemat doted on the beasts, and spent an hour or two a day in their pen, feeding them and playing with them. He said it was training.

Elaine glanced up. Mansemat was still hovering over her, with a rather anxious expression on his face. “Look--Dark Lord--I don’t want to talk to you. Understand?”

Mansemat coughed nervously. “Perfectly. Perfectly. And I respect that. That said--you don’t have to call me ‘Dark Lord’. I’d prefer it if you didn’t, actually…” He gave an awkward laugh. “I mean--I’m not saying you should call me ‘Dad’, or ‘Father’--but you could call me ‘Mansemat’. If you wanted. Or ‘Manny’. Or--some other pet name.”

The young blonde gave Mansemat a rather unpleasant smile. “You really don’t want to hear the--pet name I have for you.”

Mansemat gave a rueful nod. “Okay--fair shot. Walked right into that one.” He idly stroked his gryphon’s head. “Well then--could I at least get you to--get down from here?”

Elaine stared at him in calm contempt. “Why should I?”

Mansemat stared at her. “Well--Elaine, you’re on the roof of the Tower of Melancholy. It’s very high. People have died falling off it. I’ve lost relatives this way. Not particularly close relatives, I admit. Or even very pleasant ones. But still, relatives.”

Elaine glared at him. “Mom asked you to do this, didn’t she?”

“She mentioned you were up here. The ‘flying up on Blackbeak to check on you’ is my idea.” Mansemat looked away rather sheepishly. “I admit, not one of my best.”

“Well, I’m not coming down,” said Elaine. “I like it up here. It’s a good place to be alone.” Her frown deepened into a grimace. “Most of the time.”

“You enjoy solitude! That’s fine! But could you enjoy it--someplace not so high? Like the--Gallery of Agony perhaps?”

Elaine regarded him skeptically. “Your--torture chamber?”

Mansemat gave a furtive wave of his hand. “Well--I don’t use it very often, and I thought… Anyway, it’s not my torture chamber--it’s just part of the Castle. I think my great-great-grandfather built it, actually. Or--was it my great aunt? ” He shook his head. “One of the two.”

“Ohh.“ Elaine nodded. “So it’s not your torture chamber exactly--it’s the torture chamber that happens to belong to you. Got you.”

Mansemat began to rub the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Look, Elaine--please stop trying to turn me into the villain of this story…”

Elaine chuckled. “You ARE the villain. You’re the Dark Lord of the Plains of Dread, you keep a big army of Nightfolk, and you plan to invade and subjugate the Lands of Light.”

Mansemat looked away awkwardly. “But that’s just--business. I mean--your mother’s a Dark Lord too. The whole--horde of Night and invasion plan, and all of that is--what we do.”

“Uh huh,” said Elaine, leaning backwards to look at the sky.

Mansemat sighed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stepdaughter of the Dark Lord--Part 1

It was a cool autumn day in the Lands of Night, with a gentle breeze blowing on the Plains of Dread. A pale white banner flew from the ramparts of Castle Terribel, the great fortress of House Cthonique which dominated the area.

There were many banners that could be flying there, and they all meant something different. A red one meant the castle was under attack. A blue one meant all was well. A green one meant to be on watch. A black one meant that it was a time of celebration.

A white banner meant it was time for a troop review.

Lord Mansemat Cthonique looked over the rows upon rows of soldiers, all standing at attention before his podium. Many were Erls of the Dread Plains and the Accursed Marsh, of course, but some were Ogres from the Mountains of Sorrows , others Goblins from the Shadow Woods, and a few even belonged to the Ghouls of the Blasted Heath--and they all served him and the cause of House Cthonique. Ten years ago, when his father died, it looked as if House Cthonique would collapse--yet now it was more powerful than ever. A smile spread over Mansemat’s lean, pale face. To think--he had not only equaled his father--but surpassed him. Even Mansemat was surprised.

His troops were gazing at him eagerly. It was time to speak. Raising a gauntlet-clad hand, the Dark Lord of Castle Terribel motioned for silence. “Soldiers of House Cthonique! The day of our ultimate triumph draws ever NEARER! The day when the hordes of Darkness cast down the proud denizens of the Lands of Light, and usher in a new age of TERROR! The day when--”

Suddenly, his hand went to his forehead, a distracted expression playing across his face. “Ummm--pardon me, gentlemen--it’s my wife. This will just be a moment, so--well, hold on.” His eyes shut tightly. “Ahh. Hello, dear.”

There was a slight pause as if Mansemat was listening to a speaker unheard to the onlookers--which was, in fact, the case. “No, no, darling--just telling the men of our inevitable victory over the forces of all that is holy. You know the drill, Viviane. Shop talk.”

Another pause--this one slightly longer. “Of course, dear. I always have time for you, nightshade petals. Now what’s the matter?”

Mansemat’s eyes snapped open in shock in response to the unheard reply. “She’s--WHAT? Why didn’t you tell me this immediately?”

Another pause. “Well, I’m worried now, dear. There was really no way to tell me without getting me worried. It’s worrying news.” Mansemat took a deep breath. “No, I’m not angry, Viv. Disturbed maybe, but not angry. And not at you, but with you. I’m troubled because you are troubled, dear. When you’re happy--I’m happy. When you’re sad--I’m sad. That’s all. Okay?” A slight smile spread over his face. “Love you too, sweetie. And don’t worry--I have it covered. Kiss-kiss!”

Mansemat took a deep breath, and regarded his troops again. “Umm--right. I--have to get going. Family matters.” He coughed slightly, and glanced away awkwardly. “So in summary--we’re going to kick the ass of Light.” He raised a clenched fist, “Hurray for us. Woo.” He lowered the fist, and silently cursed his inability to improvise speeches. “Anyway--I’m leaving the--uhhh--training part of this--thing--to my brother, Nisrioch, Lord of the Screaming Waste!” A tall figure with a shock of white hair, wearing a grey robe embroidered with mystical symbols, ascended to the podium. Nisrioch stood a head taller than his brother--and Mansemat was tall for an Erl, which was tall for just about anybody. As he neared his brother, he briefly lowered himself on one knee, then stood at attention at Mansemat’s side.

Mansemat gave Nisrioch an affectionate pat on the shoulder. “Yes, yes--you’re in good hands with Nisrioch. So--while I’m gone, I want you to show him the same respect you’d give me.” With that, he leapt down from the podium, and jogged briskly away.

Nisrioch regarded the troops for a moment in utter silence, his strange rainbow-colored eyes moving over them dispassionately. Finally he spoke. “Gentleman, my plan can be summed up in one word--GROUNDHOGS!” Warming to his subject, Nisrioch raised his arms emphatically. “Yes, groundhogs! Brown! Furry! DEADLY! The key to VICTORY!”