Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Where All Shadows Gather--Part 73

Mansemat Cthonique glanced at the letter with suspicion. “So--the King of the Goblins wishes to pay his last respects before heading off?” He sighed. “Very well, Breus. Let him in.” He turned to his brother as the Chief Steward headed off. “Now, Asterot cares about formalities.” Mansemat shook his head.

Nisrioch shrugged. “He’s a Maganza, Manny. He cares about them when they let him show off.”

Viviane, seated in a corner, glanced at the pair. “Do you think he--suspects--we suspect?”

“I doubt it,” yawned Morgaine. “He’s not that smart. Just mean.”

Breus opened the door, with a flourish and bow. “Lord Asterot Maganza, King of the Goblins, Holder of the Ebony Throne.” Asterot entered, looking at the group warily as Breus ducked out of the room. He was clad in his usual finery, but his eyes were bloodshot, with heavy circles under them. After a second, he coughed.

“I want to assure you all I’ve had a lovely time,” said Asterot. “At least--I assume I did. I fear I have forgotten much of it.”

“Ahh, yes,” said Mansemat. “Due to your drinking. Of course.”

Asterot frowned severely. “Listen, I know my habits are perhaps--unseemly, but this sort--”

“Cut the crap, Asterot,” said Morgaine, popping up from her seat. “After the hellpowder incident, I found myself looking at some very strange facts. You were apparently drunk all the time--but you weren’t demanding any more drinks than anyone else. In fact--rather less. You’d brought your own liquor, it seemed. So I had one of the Guard get a hold of a portion of that bottomless supply of drink.” She gave a tight smile. “Watered-down ale. To get as drunk as you apparently were, you’d have to drink several barrels of the stuff. In one very short sitting.”

Mansemat nodded. “And seeing as not even you could do that, we came to the conclusion that you weren’t drunk at all.”

Viviane stared at the Maganza balefully from her corner, her hand going to her pestle. “Which means on that day when everyone was supposed to be blown to pieces--you probably weren’t “sick”. Which strongly suggests you knew what was going to happen. Which strongly suggests you had a hand in making it happen.”

Asterot looked at the Cthoniques calmly. And then he smiled. “That is a base accusation, against a fellow Dark Lord of the Nine. I would be within my rights to bring this up to the Council of Shadows. Of course, I will not, simply to avoid the scandal, which would prove most distressing to the entire Council.” He looked Mansemat in the eye. “Would it not?” Mansemat bit his lip. “Indeed, I heartily wonder why you have bothered telling me this, since any move to formally accuse or detain me would create diplomatic incident of--incredible severity.” Asterot’s smile deepened. “Might even kick off a war. And we know you don’t want that.”

Mansemat frowned and looked away, his voice taking on an angry edge. “Yes, Asterot, we aren’t going to do anything to you. You will leave Castle Terribel a free man, unhindered by our accusations. We--simply wanted you to know--we know.”

Asterot nodded slightly, and he glanced out the chamber‘s window. “You know--I wanted to be drinking water the whole time. But I’m afraid my sins are catching up to me. When I tried to go without--I began to shake. And to see things.” He sighed. “Most distressing. Still--I’m as clear-headed as I can get these days. Sadly, I did all this only to witness my defeat, instead of yours, but--it’s been an interesting experience.”

Mansemat stared at the King of Goblins for a moment. “Why, Asterot? Why did you try to cause such--bloodshed?”

“You assume I was behind all this,” said Asterot. “But I am only one of--many players. Most of which I don’t even know. Still--why was I involved? Easy. I hate you, Mansemat. I hate you and your entire family.”

Mansemat shut his eyes. “Asterot--you know I mourn my father’s--mad ambition, and the horrors he committed because of it,” he began.

The King of Goblins gave a dark laugh. “Shaddad has nothing to do with this. Or--very little. Oh, he killed my kin, stole my land, had me living the life of an exile--but all that I could live with.” A bitter smile touched his handsome face. “Truth be told--those were the finest moments of my life, the years I spent fighting Lord Shaddad. Didn’t realize it at the time, mind you. No, that’s not why I hate you, Mansemat. I hate you for what you did to me.”

Mansemat eyes widened in shock. “I--have done nothing to you, Asterot, save be a friend to you! When your little deal with the Ironfangs went sour, I saved you. I even gave you back the Shadow Woods.”

“Yes, like you were doling out presents to the needy on Ladytide ,” spat out Asterot, the venom in his words and face astounding. “Men fought and died for me for a decade and a half--I made that--horrible bargain with the Ashuranas and the Regnis--all so you could simply--give the Woods back to me.” He gave a sharp sob. “By the Dragon, what was it all for? They died for me--in FRONT OF ME--under my banner, shouting my name! I told them that it would all have been worth it--that there would come a day of glory, and you KILLED it!” He glared at Mansemat. “You killed my honor, Cthonique. You killed every part of me that isn’t flesh.”

Mansemat stared back at the King of Goblins for a long time, then looked away. “By the Darksome Lady, Asterot--get yourself well. If you can.”

A sickly bitter smile came to Asterot’s face. “Ahh, perfect,” he said. “Now you give me your pity.” He turned away. “Another thing I neither need, nor want.”

“It would never have worked, Asterot,” said Morgaine suddenly, stepping before the Dark Lord of the Shadow Woods. “The spells on Castle Terribel are strong. Stronger than you can imagine. Our ancestors saw to that. You’d kill a lot of people--but we’d be fine.”

“That was the idea,” said Asterot with a chuckle. “Most of the Dark Lords die at Castle Terribel, leaving only the Cthoniques, and of course--myself.” He snarled. “All the Lands of Night would unite to see your heads placed on pikes. And I would be leading the charge.” He chuckled. “Or so I was told. I had my doubts it would go in quite that manner. But still--rest assured, your probable survival was not a failure--it was the point.”

Morgaine stared at him in shock. “Damn--you did your research…” Her amber eyes narrowed. “How…?”

“As I told your little niece--Falerina Ashurana sends her regards,” drawled the King of Goblins.

Morgaine frowned severely at him. “Your sister and I are lovers now. Wanted you to know that.”

Asterot gave a nonchalant nod. “Well, that just means there really is someone for everyone. She sleeps in a coffin, you know.”

“She mentioned it to me,” said Morgaine with a defiant tilt of her head. “I think it’s adorable.”

Asterot gave another nod, and headed to the door. Nisrioch coughed. “I have--debated sharing this with you, Asterot, but--now it seems inevitable, and really, I must. You are going to die.”

Asterot stopped and stared at the tall Dark Lord. “That is the fate of all, Nisrioch.” He gestured at Morgaine. “With a few odd exceptions, of course.”

“Yes,” agreed Nisrioch, “but your death is coming sooner than you might think.” He regarded Asterot gravely. “There are only a few years remaining to you, Asterot Maganza, Erl King of the Goblins. Perhaps as few as two. Perhaps as many as six. But no more than can be counted on one hand.”

Asterot continued to stare at Nisrioch, a sickly curiosity naked on his face. “How--how will it--?”

“That is hidden from my Sight,” said Nisrioch. “I only know that one day--soon--you will come to a place under a mulberry tree. The berries are dark purple, and the silkworms spin their cocoons. In that moment--in that place--you will die. That is all I know.”

Asterot looked at the floor and swallowed. And then he took a deep breath, and a smile came to his face. “Well--excellent. That means that soon--this awful ordeal will be over.” He shook his head. “The only real good news I’ve heard in a while.” He bowed. “I thank you for it.” And then he headed out the door, his head raised high, and was gone.

Nisrioch shook his head, his rainbow-hued eyes filled with pity and sorrow. “That poor, poor tormented man.”

Morgaine sighed. “Yeah. I’d almost admire the bastard, if he wasn’t an evil bag of evil spite that tried to evilly kill every other Dark Lord in the Lands of Night, because he‘s evil.” She shrugged. “I mean--he’s got pluck. You have to give him that, if nothing else.” She frowned deeply. “And I mean absolutely nothing else.”

Viviane looked at Morgaine awkwardly. “So--you’re--involved with--Fiordespina Maganza now…?”

Morgaine gave a cheerful laugh. “Yep. It’s great. She’s even sicker than I am!” She glanced at Nisrioch. “But not as sick as you and Alse. If you’re wondering.”

Nisrioch spread his hands. “I was. And it’s good to see that we are maintaining our record for debauched depravity.”

Morgaine smiled. “Hey, I like to spread the joy around.”

“Uh-huh.” Viviane gave a nod. “Well--we’re happy for you. Aren’t we, Manny?”

Mansemat looked at his wife. “Of course, I’m happy. Why shouldn’t I be?” He glanced at his sister. “And she’s--fine with the whole--undead thing?”

“Despi thinks it’s a draw,” said Morgaine.

“Well, that’s excellent,” said Mansemat happily. “Maybe she can come visit by herself sometime. Get to know the family.”

Nisrioch grinned. “Why, we can have her over tea! It’ll be delightful!” He clapped his hands together. “Oooh! I can serve her these new tarts I’ve got worked up! They’ve got limes in them!”

Viviane coughed. “And I’ll… find something to do. That’s pleasant.”

Morgaine chuckled. “They really don’t prepare you for my sort in the Marsh, do they?”

“Well, there were a couple of witches who shared a hut near Luned’s Well,” said Viviane with a sigh. “But then, they might have been sisters. Or cousins. Or something.” She shrugged. “I never really inquired.”

Morgaine patted Viviane’s hand. “My poor, rustic sister-in-law…”

1 comment:

  1. Asterot may be an ass, but I actually feel bad for him...