Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In Memorium--Part 10

Justinian stared in surprise as he opened the door. “You were the last person I’d expect to attend this… séance,” he muttered.

Nerghal slid into the room. “Ahh, well… professional interest, I suppose.” The ghost glanced around casually. “After all, if anyone should be interested in what lies beyond it’d be me.”

Justinian raised an eyebrow. “I’d have thought you’d know.”

Nerghal sighed and shook his wounded head. “Do I look like a man who’s achieved some sort of spiritual epiphany? The last thing I remember is screaming obscenities as half a dozen Kizaks filled me with arrows, and then passing out from blood loss.” The ghost frowned. “You’d think they’d just finish a wounded man off quickly, but no--they made a proper production out of it. Hacked me up after I was dead, actually.”

“Are you STILL complaining about that?” snapped Morgaine from her seat. The undead Dark Lord was clad in mass of black and scarlet lace, with a large golden headdress perched precariously on her forehead. “Lady’s Love, Nerghy, you were a kinslayer, and a usurper! You’re surprised people got a little rough with your corpse?”

“But the man I was usurping from was your father!” said Nerghal. “Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Considering that Dad was like… fifth down the line of succession before you started rearranging it, no,” answered Morgaine. She yawned and began tapping the crystal ball that lay before her. “Look, I really don’t want to have this discussion again. Just find a nice little corner, and watch the miracles occur. Got it?” Nerghal nodded and began to head towards a small nook. “Also, if I discover your negative vibes scared Mom’s spirit off from whatever happy place in the Netherworld she’s in… I’ll do… something.” She frowned. “Don’t know what, but it’ll be unpleasant.”

“So--you’ll just be yourself, then?” muttered Nerghal.

“What was that?” snapped Morgaine.

“Nothing,” whispered the ghost.

Morgaine nodded. “Good.” She glanced around the table at the attendants, most of whom looking awkwardly away. “He is like that all the time,” she said. “You’ve got to be firm.”

“We’re… not saying anything,” noted Jean.

“Right,” agreed Viviane. “You talk to your… spectral… great-uncle… however you want.”

Mansemat rubbed his forehead. “I know. Not something you ever imagined yourself saying. No matter how hard you tried.”

Morgaine glared at the table. “You are all ruining the atmosphere before it even begins. I want you all to know that.” There was a knock on the door. “Ohh, Darksome Lady… Sigma! Get…” Justinian opened the door once again. Nisrioch stood there. Morgaine stared at him for a while. “Thought you weren’t coming this year.”

“So did I,” said Nisrioch with a sigh. “But, then I started asking myself--’well, what if this is the year she finally does it?” He sat down. “So here I am.”

Morgaine nodded. “Right.” She clapped her hands together. “Sigma! Dim the lights! Everyone prepare to be transported to new heights of mystical spectral--stuff! Let the séance BEGIN!”

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In Memorium--Part 9

Nisrioch walked down the hall with a bowl of black lentil soup. Shamhat enjoyed it--as much as she could enjoy anything these days--and it kept her health up--as much as anything could these days. He looked at the soup and sighed. This was what they shared now--bowls of soup, and this endless grim vigil. And despite this, Nisrioch kept at it. Largely because what would follow would be a world without her. The kitchen staff had been sympathetic as they handed him the bowl--as had Breus, in truth. He tried to recall just when he ceased to become "Shaddad's little monster" to them all, and become himself. Shortly after Shamhat arrived, he decided. Another thing to thank her for.

Which he supposed he was doing, after a fashion.

“Ahh, Nisrioch,” came his father’s deep voice. The tall young Erl stiffened and then stopped.

“Lord Shaddad,” he said quietly, as the Dark Lord slid into view. Nisrioch stared at him. These days, Shaddad had to glance up to look him in the eye. It irked Shaddad, and the Dark Lord hid it… poorly. Nisrioch did his best to keep his face stoic. How was I ever in awe of this man? How could I not See through all the bluster, and realize how hollow the person underneath was?

Shaddad fidgeted slightly, then saw the bowl. “Ahh. I see you’re… keeping up with… that.”

“I feel she deserves it,” answered Nisrioch simply.

Shaddad nodded silently. “I do feel as if I mishandled that situation.”

Nisrioch raised an eyebrow. He’d know his father for sixteen years now, and admitting mistakes was not exactly a common occurrence for Lord Shaddad. “How so?”

“Oh, I felt I had to make a worthy heir,” said Lord Shaddad. “Based on… well, some things your mother said, a long time ago. But… I think I misunderstood her. And I failed to realize…” He shook his head. “I am not an affectionate man, Nisrioch. I never had much time for such things, and my experiences with my uncle… drove what little aptitude I possessed from me. And Shamhat… well, she was young. Girls like that need a little affection. And you two were of an age.” He sighed. “Should have done the obvious. Married you two.” The Dark Lord stroked his chin. “True, you’re a bit younger than her, but--well, time has a way of evening those things out.” He shook his head. “Ahh, well. Too late now.”

Nisrioch frowned. “Yes, I suppose it is a bit late to contemplate marrying your bastard to your wife.”

Shaddad stared at him, and as his amber eyes lighted on him, suddenly Nisrioch did remember why he‘d been in awe of the man for so long. “My heir, Nisrioch,” said Shaddad. “Not my bastard.”

Nisrioch gulped. “You have an heir, Your Magnificence,” said Nisrioch.

“Oh, yes,” said Shaddad with a dark chuckle. “And what an heir! A blubbering child with no magic, who’s afraid of his own shadow!” He frowned. “Honestly, I look at that… boy and I wonder how could I have sired him. And Morgaine--” He sighed. “Too much magic, too much will, and… well, I’d heard the Southerners were overbred, but I’d thought a little Cthonique blood would… straighten things out. Instead…” He shrugged. “I think she wound up with too much male humors in the womb. For a start.”

Nisrioch frowned. “Ahh. I see.” He nodded, and started to walk down the hall again.

“Nisrioch!” shouted Shaddad. “Don’t you see? I’m offering it all to you! You’ll be my heir! You’ll be the Cthonique of Castle Terribel!”

“What would the Things have to say about that?” noted Nisrioch quietly.

“They’ll come around,” said Shaddad. “One way or another.” Nisrioch nodded again, then continued down the hall. “Come on, son! Don’t you have anything to say to that?”

Nisrioch turned. “Only that I am more fond of my siblings than you are, father. I’m not going to betray them to gain your… favor. Keep your titles, and honors. Anything I got from you would be poisoned.”

Shaddad stared at his son in disappointment. “This isn’t just about me, Nisrioch. It’s about House Cthonique. I have to do what’s best.”

“I know, father,” said Nisrioch, retreating down the hall. “You love this family. In the abstract. The actual members are… less worthy of affection.”

Lord Shaddad said nothing to that--merely sulked away. Nisrioch wished he could say he found that comforting--but he knew his father too well to think that this was the end of the matter. There would be more trouble, coming from that direction.

Well, Nisrioch could handle it. He wasn’t a little boy any longer. There were ways Lord Shaddad scared him, but they weren’t by the simple magic of being his father.

Arriving at Shamhat’s door, he knocked on it gently, then let himself in. She lay on the bed, quiet, and barely moving. Her eyes opened gradually as he walked towards her. “I didn’t hear you knock,” she whispered.

“I didn’t want to wake you if you were sleeping,” said Nisrioch, setting the bowl before her. “It’s your favorite.”

She smiled, as best she could with her parched lips. “Could--could you feed it to me? I--my hands aren’t doing what I want today.” Nisrioch nodded, and picked up the spoon. Shamhat’s skin was as pale and withered as parchment left out in the sun too long, and drawn tight against her bones, while her eyes shone bright and feverish when she opened them. She slurped down the spoonfuls Nisrioch with a sense of dull necessity, not enjoyment. After a moment, she stopped. “Did--did I ever tell you about when my mother died?” she asked, quietly.

“Not that I recall,” said Nisrioch worriedly.

“She… got pretty bad by the end,” gulped Shamhat. “Started screaming about… men wearing bird masks and… giant cockroaches. For hours on end.” She winced. “Sometimes days. It was the poison. The stuff they gave her starts in the brain, and then just… spreads from there. So you go mad before you die.” She took a deep breath. “My uncles--told me it was simply… nerves. That she’d get over it.” She gave a rueful chuckle. “I suppose in a way she did.”

“I am sorry,” whispered Nisrioch.

“Water… water under the bridge, really,” said Shamhat. “But thanks.” She shut her eyes and was silent for a long while. “I don’t want to die like that, Nisrioch. But I’m going to, aren’t I?” Nisrioch gave no answer. “Aren’t I?”

“It… is a possibility,” said Nisrioch softly.

“Nissy--I… if you could…” Shamhat sobbed softly. “I can handle dying, Nisrioch, just not like that…”

“Do not ask me what you plan to,” declared Nisrioch emphatically. “I cannot do what you wish.”

Shamhat nodded sadly. “I… thought… as much…”

Nisrioch raised a hand. “But--I might be able to do… something.” He began to trace symbols in the air, chanting softly under his breath. Slowly, steadily, a strange glowing haze began to flow from his hands.

“What… what is that?” asked Shamhat.

“A dream,” answered Nisrioch. “A dream of summer days, and simple joys. I can give you this dream, and it will fill you, and be the bonds of your world. You will pass into this dream, and in it, you will live, until you leave your life, gently and easily, like a raindrop falling from a cloud.”

“That sounds lovely,” said Shamhat simply. She bit her lip and looked at Nisrioch. “Thank you for this. Thank you--so much.” She shut her eyes. “Take--care of Manny and Morgaine for me, okay?”

“I’ll do my best,” said Nisrioch. “Now--look into the center of the light…”

Shamhat did her best to follow his instructions. “I… I’m not sure… wait--wait, I--it’s beautiful, it’s…” And then she drifted off to sleep.

Nisrioch placed a kiss on her forehead. “Good rest, daughter of the South, until Mother Night takes you back to Herself.” A dark laugh came from behind Nisrioch.

“How very touching,” said Zamial mordantly. Nisrioch turned to regard his mother. She shook her head in scorn. “Thou disappointeth me, son of my desire. I had such hopes for thee, and yet thou hast chosen to wrap thyself in…” She scowled forcefully. “Mortality as if it were a cloak.” She pointed at her son forcefully. “What has come of all the time thou spent with that creature lying there? Wasted! Gone! And thou art left none the richer for it!”

Nisrioch sighed. “You are completely wrong about that, Mother. And I shall leave the matter at that, as I’m certain you wouldn’t understand me if I tried to explain it to you.”

“Thinkest me ignorant, dost thou?” snapped the demon. “There is death in thee now, my son. I smelled it all those years ago, but hoped I was wrong.” Zamial sighed. “More fool I. Demon, trusteth thine own oracles.” She laughed once more--than sobbed. “Why? Why, oh son of my delight?”

Nisrioch sighed. “Because she loved me, Mother. Something you never quite managed to do.”

“Love?” snapped Zamial. “More mortal nonsense! Speak not to me of it, my poppet--‘tis a lie given to desire, to make it seem loftier!” She stamped one hoofed foot on the ground. “Nisrioch! I bid thee apologize to thy mother, for thou hast been most hateful to her!”

Nisrioch crossed his arms. “I do not hate you, Mother. I pity you.”

Zamial’s eyes went wide. “Thou pitieth the Queen of Fear?” She raised her clawed hands in menace. “Thou DARES pity me?”

“Yes,” said Nisrioch simply. “I pity any blind thing, and that is what you are, Mother. Your Sight shows you so much--and yet you can understand so little of it.” He shook his head. “It’s almost poetic, if it were not so sad.”

Zamial stared at her son in shock, then stood to her full incredible height. “Nisrioch--thou hast made thy mother FULL WROTH!” There was a peal of thunder. “If this is how thou wouldst treat me--then I shall visit thee no more! If thou wishest words with me--thou may petition me, as all others do!” She hissed at him, her eyes glowing. “Perhaps this will teach thee what a treasure thou hast thrown away!” She took one baleful look at him, then vanished.

“Goodbye, Mother,” said Nisrioch with a sigh, then looked back at Shamhat’s slumbering form. She was smiling now, her breaths coming slow and even. Nisrioch felt something warm on his cheek. When he put his hand on it, he realized it was a tear.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In Memorium--Part 8

Morgaine sipped her ‘tea’ imperiously. “Really, Nissy,” she proclaimed, her amber eyes regal, “surely you know better than to bother us with items of such neckligiblable importance?”

“It’s--‘negligible’, Morgaine,” said Nisrioch kindly. “There’s no neck in it, and you added an ‘able’.”

Morgaine frowned and turned to the empty chair next to her. “Why, yes, Nerghy, Nissy does have a big mouth!” She set her cup down and looked at the chair intently. “How very interesting, Nerghy! But I don’t know if I can get that many ants…”

Nisrioch coughed. “Morgaine, I am merely asking you to come sit for a portrait.” He smiled at his sister. “There is absolutely no reason to bring ants into the matter.”

Morgaine looked at the empty chair guiltily. “It was Nerghy’s idea.” She picked up the empty pot and “poured” it into her cup. She paused and looked at Nisrioch. “Would you like a refill?”

“A proper host asks before serving themselves,” noted Nisrioch, pushing his cup forward. “And yes.”

“I am defiantly unproper!” said Morgaine grandly as she “poured” . She lifted a plate up. “Now--would you like a cinnymom cake?”

Nisrioch deftly picked up the imaginary sweet. “Thank you.” He pretended to eat it and smiled at his sister. “Very nice. Now--please Morgaine. Pretty please?” He raised his eyebrows hopefully. “I’ll let you look in my spectramogifierscope.”

Morgaine looked at him suspiciously. “How long?”

“An hour,” replied Nisrioch.

“Two,” said Morgaine. She tapped her chin idly with a finger. “And a half.”

“One and a half,” said Nisrioch.

“Two even,” said Morgaine. “And afterwards, we blow bubbles.”

“It’s a deal,” declared Nisrioch, offering her his hand to shake.

Morgaine took it and glanced at the empty chair. “Ha! See, Nerghy? I do know how to drive a bargain!” She smiled. “This makes seeing Daddy worth it.”

“Father won’t be in the portrait,” said Nisrioch.

“He won’t be?” asked Morgaine puzzled. “But you said this was a family portrait.”

“Without him,” said Nisrioch. “He’s… busy.”

Morgaine nodded. “Sacking some place. Right. He does that a lot.” She squinted in puzzlement. “Why do they call it ‘sacking’? They don’t put stuff in sacks, that I can see, anyway…”

“A linguistic mystery,” said Nisrioch. “We’ll figure it out some other time.”

“I wished you’d said Daddy wouldn’t be there,” said Morgaine. “That changes everything!”

“Does this mean you won’t be demanding a look in my spectramogifierscope?” asked Nisrioch hopefully.

“A deal’s a deal!” snapped Morgaine. “You are lucky I’m so happy that Daddy’s not around, that I’m not going to get angry for saying that!”

Nisrioch rose, and bowed. “See you shortly.” As he headed towards the door, he heard Morgaine say, “No, Nerghy, I’m not going to set Daddy on fire! That would make him angry and he’s extra-scary like that!”

Despite himself, Nisrioch shook his head. He was in no position to judge, but he did have to admit, Morgaine seemed… slightly odd. There was a sharp hiss to his left. Nisrioch turned his head. His little brother Mansemat stood there looking at him nervously with his big green eyes. “Is she coming?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” answered Nisrioch. “In a little while.”

“Oh, good!” answered Mansemat with a smile. “That will make Mom happy!” He bit his lip nervously. “At least--I hope so.” He sniffled slightly. “How--how is she today?”

“Very good,” said Nisrioch. “I think when this is finished, we might go out to the garden for a while.”

Mansemat nodded. “That would be nice.” He fidgeted slightly. “It’s always nice… when Mom’s all right.” He sniffled and then broke into tears. “It’s--uh--not FAIR!” Mansemat sobbed, then buried his head in his brother’s robes.

“Manny?” asked Nisrioch kindly.

“I--I’m sorry,” he whimpered. “I--uh--I know I sh-shouldn’t cry. But it’s not FAIR! Why does Mom have to be sick all the time?”

Nisrioch swallowed awkwardly. “It’s simply one of those things,” he said. That was true--or as much truth as he felt needed to be said.

Mansemat sniffled some more. “I know. I know. That’s what she says, but…” He gave another sob. “It still makes me sad.”

Nisrioch patted his brother’s head. “That’s because you’ve a kind heart, Manny. It‘s a good thing to have.”

“Then why don’t you ever cry?” asked Mansemat.

“I am the child of a Demon, little brother,” said Nisrioch. “We don’t have tears to shed.”

Mansemat looked at his brother oddly. “Not even if you’re hurt horredbly?” Nisrioch shook his head. “That doesn’t sound fun,” Mansemat noted.

“It isn’t supposed to be,” answered Nisrioch. The brothers made their way through the halls of Castle Terribel in silence for a moment, then reached Lady Shamhat Sekhmetides Maganza’s room. Nisrioch knocked gently on the door. “Lady Shamhat? I’m here. And Manny’s with me.”

“Oh, good, good!” came her voice from the door. “Come in you two!” Nisrioch opened the door gently. Shamhat had gotten herself dressed in some of her favorite clothes, and now sat in her chair. She spread her arms. “Manny! Come give Mommy a hug!”

Mansemat rushed forward and dove into her lap. “You look womberful!” he said.

Shamhat planted a kiss on the top of her son’s head. “Thank you, Manny.” She looked at Nisrioch. “Where’s Morgaine?”

“She’ll meet us in the Small Hall,” said Nisrioch. “She had something to finish…”

“She was having tea with Nerghy,” said Mansemat, shivering.

Shamhat grimaced. “Oh. Him.” She shuddered. “You know--I don’t mind her having an imaginary friend--but could she have one who was… less creepy?”

“Being Morgaine, I would say, no,” replied Nisrioch, stepping behind the chair and taking the handles. “Now, shall we be on our way.”

Shamhat waved her hand. “If you’d please.” As Nisrioch wheeled her out into the hall, it occurred to him that she really did look wonderful today. He just wished days like today weren’t getting rarer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Memorium--Part 7

Nisrioch awoke as effortlessly as he always did, eyes opening smoothly to see his mother standing over his bed in all her terrible majesty. “Ahh, Nisrioch, my darling,” said Zamial. “Dost thou see how precious thou art to me?” She smiled at him, showing her fangs. “I come to thee so soon after our last meeting! It has been--oh, some trifling few turnings of the moon…”

“Eleven months, Mother,” said Nisrioch quietly. “It has been eleven months since our last visit.”

Zamial thought that over, glancing around the room distractedly. “Ten… ten… ten…” She shook her antlered head dismissively. “That sounds about right.” She took a sniff at the air. “I swear, this smells wrong, it does…” She turned again to Nisrioch. “But thou--thou my precious, my poppet, my sweet manikin! Thou art what brings me here! How goes it?”

“Well, Mother,” said Nisrioch. He knew his mother knew his answers, in a sense, without even asking the questions--but still, she liked to ask them. Mostly, he got the impression, because she had gathered that was what mortal mothers did. “It goes… well.” He bit his lip nervously. “Lady Shamhat and I play games much of the time. Or… we did, until her… condition made it unwise.”

“Ahh. The swelling in her belly,” said Zamial, nose wrinkled in disgust. “Frankly, I’ve never seen why mortals bother with that. ‘Tis most… disconcerting.” She brought one clawed hand down gently on Nisrioch’s forehead, tracing it delicately with a finger. “Thou, my darling boy, were brought into this world through no such gross action, rest assured. I created thou pure and pristine from the mingling of thy father’s and mine own essences.” She leaned forward and smiled at her son. “Is that not a comfort to thee, Nisrioch, son of my delight?”

“I…” Nisrioch shut his eyes. “Of course it is. Thank you, Mother.” He swallowed and looked at her frantically. “I-is Shamhat going to be all right? I… My Sight… shows me… horrible things when I look at her, but… only faintly…”

Zamial threw her head back and laughed. “Is she going to be all right?” she cackled. “Come now, my darling boy. Thou shouldst know better.” She leaned forward. “She is going to die, as all mortals are. Such is their doom, poor silly creatures.” She yawned idly. “She’ll die sooner then most, I admit. But still--it’s a small matter, when one gets down to it.”

Nisrioch stared at his mother in horror. “No,” he whispered. He grabbed Zamial’s side in desperation. “I--I have to save her. I have to do something.”

Zamial sighed. “It lies beyond thy power to do anything in this case, son of my heart. Shamhat Sekhmetides Maganza has already taken her death wound.” The demon stared idly at her claws. “She will live a while longer. But not very long.” Zamial waved her hand facetiously. “But what cares thee about this, Nisrioch, when thy Mother comes to share with thee all the secrets and powers at her fingertips.” She leaned forward, her rainbow-colored eyes glowing in the darkness. “Such wonders have I to show thee, my son! Such marvels! The krakens war on the leviathans in the far corners of the Great Grey Ocean! We shall go see this! In the Far Isles, women are diving for pearls, so the Great King may have a necklace for his wife of the Great Year. If by the end of that time she has not born him a son and heir, he will strangle her with it. Let us go to his treasure chamber, and see his slaves make it, and then look at the necklaces of his last six wives. Or perhaps we can go to the Temple of the Great Golden God. Seventy-nine years have passed, so it is now time for his bath in fine wine, pomegranate juice, and precious myrrh. We shall watch this!” Zamial knelt on the floor before her son. “We may see this, my darling. We may see all this and more! Come with me, take my hand, and I shall take thee to all the corners of the world!” She reached forward, offering her great hand to Nisrioch.

Nisrioch backed away. “Sorry, Mother. I… I must check on Lady Shamhat.” He opened the door, and prepared to leave, then paused. “Perhaps--some other time.” And then he darted from the room, certain that he heard an eerie wailing behind him.

Nisrioch ran down the hallways he knew better than men who had grown old walking down them, expertly navigating their twists and turns. As he came closer to his goal, he heard Lord Shaddad shouting.

“--said it was certain!” he yelled. Nisrioch paused by the door, and waited just out of sight.

“That ith not quite what I thaid, Your Magnifithenthe,” sputtered Orrill impotently.

Shaddad strode toward the reptilian sorcerer menacingly. “Oh, well, that makes it all right!” snapped Shaddad, pointing an accusing finger at Orrill. “You promised me a GOD for an heir, Orrill!” A black flame began to crackle at the end of Shaddad’s finger. “All the powers of my blood and hers--the power of the old Kings of the South--DOUBLED!”

“And you did get that, Your Maginifithenthe,” said Orrill quietly. “Jutht… not in quite the child you wished for…”

“In the girl, Orrill. THE GIRL!” Shaddad gestured at the sorcerer, who fell to his knees with a groan. “A girl cannot be the Cthonique of Castle Terribel, Orrill. A girl cannot be the Dark Lord of the Plains or Waste!”

“She ith her mother’th heir,” shot out Orrill. Shaddad clenched his fist, and Orrill gave a shriek, then writhed on the floor.

“Are you trying to anger me, Orrill?” said Shaddad quietly. “Is that what you’re trying to do? I know that! It isn’t a benefit.” He shook his head. “All my plans--ruined. You swore that this would work…”

“I thaid--the chanthe--of thucceth wath ekthellent!” gasped out Orrill. “I have been able to achieve… the dethired rethultth in earlier attemptth. But the amount of magic involved here meant that there would alwayth be thome unpredictability…”

“I wish you had mentioned that more prominently when you first suggested this plan to me,” hissed Shaddad. He frowned. “Can you make another attempt?”

“With another girl, perhapth, but Lady Shamhat ith…” Orrill coughed. “Delicate,” he spat out at length.

Shaddad rolled his eyes. “Lady’s Love, Orrill, do you think Southern Princesses grow on trees?”

“I’ve heard thtorieth…” whimpered the sorcerer.

“This is not a fairy tale--it’s life!” shouted the Dark Lord. “You have ruined all my plans, Orrill. And I am… displeased.” Nisrioch darted away as Orrill began whimpering yet more abject apologies. He walked in silence to Lady Shamhat’s chamber, fading himself to walk past the witch and the midwives, who whispered to themselves in tones of quiet concern.

Shamhat lay on her great bed, eyes closed. She looked tired, frail and worn. Two bundles were resting in her arms. Nisrioch took a hesitant step towards her. Shamhat opened her eyes. Nisrioch found himself fidgeting uncomfortably. “How are you?”

“I’ve… been better,” she said. She shifted slightly. “Here, I have a couple people I need you to meet…” She looked down at the bundles before her and smiled. Nisrioch looked down and saw them. Two, tiny sleeping babies, looking wrinkled and frail. “The one on the right is Morgaine,” whispered Shamhat. “The one on the left is Mansemat.”

Nisrioch looked at his half-siblings, and felt love once again steal into his heart.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Memorium--Part 6

“I’m going to get you! I’m going to get you!” yelled Shamhat as she ran down the hall.

“You just try!” Nisrioch laughed, trying to keep out of her reach.

“Oh, no I won’t!” said Shamhat, racing after him. “I’ll succeed!”

Nisrioch rushed forward, and ducked behind a pillar. “Ha! My speed is only exceeded by my wit.”

Shamhat began to circle around it. “You make that sound like an accomplishment.”

The pair were interrupted in their game by a polite cough. They turned to see Breus le Fidelé standing at the opposite end of the hall. “His Magnificence has arrived back from the Alts,” he noted simply, “and requests the pleasure of your company.”

Shamhat stood up. “You make that sound like a chore on our part.”

“I am a Steward,” said Breus. “I do not comment on His Magnificence--I serve him.”

“That still doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement,” said Shamhat.

Breus looked at her for a moment. “I am a le Fidelé, Your Excellency. My forefathers swore loyalty to the Cthoniques for all time. Through a strange quirk of fate, I have found myself working for the killer of my previous employer twice now. And yet, I continue to serve loyally. Because I remind myself--it is not my duty to judge House Cthonique. It is House Cthonique’s.”

Shamhat sighed as she walked alongside the steward. “But you have to have an opinion.”

“I might, but if so, I’ve no obligation to share it,” he replied. Breus gestured to a door. “His Magnificence is in here.”

Shamhat took a deep breath, and glanced at Nisrioch. “Right. Let’s get this over with.” And then she darted in. Nisrioch followed quickly behind her.

Shaddad was apparently in the middle of a conversation when they entered.“…flattered that you think me tho nethethary, thir, but nonetheleth, I am not confident in Malabayn…”stated the crocodile-headed sorcerer, poking nervously at the fire. Shaddad, lounging in a chair, quietly raised his hand. His underling stopped and turned to regard . “Ahh. Your Ecthellenthy,” he said with a bow. “It hath been tho long.”

“Orrill,” noted Shamhat, frowning. “Never thought I’d see you again.” She bit her lip. “Wish I could say the years have been kind to you, but--you’ve still got… the head, so, why lie.”

Orrill made his strange hissing sort of laughter. “Ahh, Lady Shamhat. Thuch a thauthy tongue on you, girl.” He stared at her with his cold reptilian eyes. “Thometimeth, I almotht wanted to thee what maketh it tho.”

“That’s enough, Orrill,” said Shaddad quietly. “We can finish our conversation--later.” Orrill bowed at the Dark Lords, then hurried out of the room. Shaddad glanced at Shamhat and smiled. “I do apologize. He can be a bit… trying at times.”

Shamhat frowned. “Yeah. That’s one way to put it.” She glanced away. “He killed people. A lot of them. Sometimes to see what would happen. Other times because he felt like it.”

“I am aware of his proclivities,” said Shaddad, rising from his chair. “Still, he serves his purposes. And is kept on a tight leash.”

“Yeah, that’s what my uncles used to say,” noted Shamhat. “It didn’t go well in the end.” She smiled. “Sharing an opinion with them… doesn’t give me the best opinion of you.”

Shaddad sighed. “Do try to remember, my dear, this is a political marriage. Our opinions of one another are immaterial.” He glanced at his son. “I do hope Nisrioch has been--good company.”

Shamhat placed a hand on the young Erl’s shoulder. “He’s been great.” She looked Shaddad in the eye. “You’re real lucky to have a kid like him. No matter how you came by him.”

Shaddad regarded her for a moment, then chuckled. “Well, I’ll say this for you--you don’t lack for spirit.” He turned to the door. “Let’s make this official, shall we? I expect you in the Great Hall in an hour. I’d prefer it if you were wearing your regalia.” And then he left them there.

Nisrioch stared at her for a moment, and it struck him how young she was. There was less than a decade between he and her. “You don’t have to do this,” he said.

“Yeah, I kinda do,” said Shamhat sadly. “I know what the standard Lord Shaddad procedure is for… disappointment. If it were just me--well, that’d be one thing. But the Heath has a lot of people living in it. I don’t think they‘d appreciate dying because I got cold feet.” She smiled at him. “Besides, someone has to take care of you.” She patted his head. “Relax. I’ll be fine.”

Nisrioch watched her leave. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that he knew she was wrong on that last part.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In Memorium--Part 5

“Hey! Nissy!” shouted Shamhat, raising a bouquet of flowers. “Look! Bluebells!”

Nisrioch turned to regard her. The young Dark Lord of the Blasted Heath seemed considerably less polished wearing in a cotton dress, and a pair of gardening gloves. And she hadn’t seemed that polished when she was wearing her regalia to begin with. “You planted them,” he stated simply.

Shamhat sniffed the flowers and smiled. “Yes, but I didn’t know for certain they’d come up.”

Nisrioch blinked. “I could have told you,” he noted.

“But that would have ruined the surprise!” said Shamhat in mock vexation. She shook her head at Nisrioch. “Honestly, Nissy, sometimes I worry about you…”

Nisrioch glanced up. “You should not do that, miss. I was told to keep you amused, not worry you.” He frowned. “Dark Lord Shaddad will be displeased.”

Shamhat also frowned. “Your father could stand to be displeased on occasion.”

Nisrioch simply stared at her for a moment. “Perhaps. Please don’t say that to him.”

“Why, Nissy,” said Shamhat, tickling his nose with the bouquet, “I wasn’t sure you cared.”

Nisrioch glanced away. “I… you interest me. You are so… happy. Always.”

“I’m just a blithe spirit,” replied Shamhat, going back to her gardening. “That’s what my mother always said.”

“Yes,” said Nisrioch. “Before she was poisoned by your uncles.” He looked at her interestedly. “They killed your father as well. Before Lord Shaddad killed them, and demanded your hand in the peace treaty.”

Shamhat frowned, and turned to Nisrioch. “Do you think I don’t know these facts, Nissy? Do you think I walk around with my head in the clouds? That I’d didn’t realize my mother was stretching the truth when she said that dad had… ‘gone away’? That I didn’t realize the sort of men my uncles were? Do you?”

“I… no.” Nisrioch shifted awkwardly. “But… the world pits strong against weak, and it favors the strong. You must be strong--stronger than all else--to survive.”

“That’s what Lord Shaddad says, eh?” muttered Shamhat.

Nisrioch nodded. “He... He shall be the strongest. The Lands of Night need a strong leader. It will be best for all.”

“Especially Lord Shaddad,” replied Shamhat. She glanced at Nisrioch. “Look--Nissy… I know there are bad people. But--you can’t be one. You just can’t. Telling yourself that you have to be a vile asshole because otherwise the other vile assholes will get you is just… stupid.” She shook her head. “There are so many good things in the world, Nissy. You have to see that, and you have to try to be one.”

Nisrioch blinked. “That is… an interesting viewpoint. I will have to… consider it.”

“Yeah, you do that,” noted Shamhat with a crooked grin. “I worry about you sometimes, Nissy. I mean--I know you’re the son of the Queen of Fear, and you can do all sort of amazing things--but you’re still a kid. You need to laugh, and play and have fun.”

Nisrioch glanced away. “I… thank you for worrying about me.”

“Don’t,” said Shamhat. “It’s free.”

Nisrioch turned to look at her again, working cheerfully in her garden. And he realized at that moment that love had entered his heart like a thief.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In Memorium--Part 4

Nisrioch stood by the Great Gates of Castle Terribel. A small crowd stood with him, the High Steward Breus le Fidelé among them. “So… sir,” said Breus to the young Erl. “I suppose Her Excellency will be her shortly,” he noted.

“Yes,” replied Nisrioch in a bland monotone.

Breus glanced at the boy, then glanced away. After a moment, he looked up at the sky. “Lovely weather, eh?”

“It is pleasant,” said Nisrioch, his voice as flat as ever.

Breus nodded. This was the last effort he made at conversation with the young Erl for some time. After several minutes of silence, Clarin Bluebell leaned towards the High Steward. “Do you think she’ll have elephants?”

“Not really,” said Breus.

“Pity,” said Clarin. “I’d like to see elephants.”

Nisrioch raised his hand. “Silence. She is near.”

Clarin looked around in unease. “How do you…?” And that’s when the noise made its way to them. Horns played in the distance. A dust cloud rolled into view, the vague image of forms moving in it visible to a discerning eye. It moved closer, and closer.

Nearly a hundred Ogres were marching, playing horns as they did so. A chariot, pulled by a pair of grphons followed behind it. Seated on it was a young female Erl, her long black hair done in a braid, guiding the gryphons with an expert hand. She wore a great gold headdress, and fine blue robes, and she smiled brightly. As the group reached the gate, she raised her hand. “Halt!” she yelled. The Ogres ceased their movement with eerie precision. The gryphons on other hand, kept moving. “Thistlewhistle! Gewgaw!” shouted the Erl maiden. “I said--’halt’! Halt’!” With a shake of their heads the gryphons stopped moving, and took to chewing their bridles sullenly.

The maiden stepped out of her chariot, and placed her hands on her hips. “Honestly you two! Can’t you behave?” The gryphons snorted. She sighed. “Look, I know you guys want to fly. And you can later, okay?” The gryphons eyed her suspiciously. “Come on,” she said in a wheedling tone. “I’m sure these nice people have plenty of slightly-rotten meat just hanging around…” The gryphons nuzzled her and licked her hands. “Ahh! Down guys! Down!”

One of the Ogres coughed. The maiden stiffened. “Oh. Right.” She waved. “Do the thing.”

The Ogres blew their trumpets. “Presenting Her Ineffable Excellency, Shamhat Sekhmetides Maganza, Dark Lord of the Blasted Heath, Geat to Irem, Maganza of the Silent Tomb, Heir to the Majesty of the Sekhmetides, and the Bastetides, and the…” declaimed the Ogre who’d coughed.

Shamhat took a deep breath. “Cut to the chase,” she hissed.

“Nerystides,” said the Ogre apologetically.

Shamhat waved at the crowd. “Hi!”

The crowd was silent, as if trying to figure out how to process this… occurrence. Shamhat ignored this, and dived before Nisrioch. “Ohh! You must be Lord Shaddad’s son!” she announced.

Everyone besides Nisrioch shuddered. One did not speak of Nisrioch’s relation to the Dark Lord. It was one of the many topics that Shaddad did not like discussed. Like what had happened to his brothers, or why certain hallways had to be sealed off, or quince jellies.

Shamhat continued to ignore their reaction. “Well, look at you! Aren’t you darling?” She pinched Nisrioch’s cheek. “Awwwww!”

“Please stop,” requested Nisrioch.

Shamhat let go of his cheek. “Sorry.” She smiled at Nisrioch brightly. “So… where’s my… husband?”

“He is subjugating Altaripa and Altafoglia,” replied Nisrioch levelly. “He should be finished with that shortly.”

Shamhat bit her lip. “Ahh. Business with the… northern branches of the family.” She took a deep breath, and shook her head. “Oh, well. They don’t get along with… my side anyway.”

Breus coughed. “Dark Lord… do… you wish us to take care of your… animals?”

Shamhat turned to smile at the Steward. “Don’t worry. My men will do it. Just give them some scraps, and they’re as happy as can be.”

Clarin looked the Ogres over. “Always thought you’d have… well, Ghouls.”

Shamhat chuckled. “Yeah, well, let’s just say our arrangement in the Heath involves vast amounts of ignoring each other and leave it at that.”

Clarin turned to her and decided to try his luck. “You… don’t have any elephants, do you?”

“Just back at home,” said Shamhat with a shrug. “I thought about bringing some, but they’re tough to transport.” She wrinkled her nose. “And the messes… ewww.”

Nisrioch tugged her sleeve. “Does Your Excellency wish to be shown her chambers?”

“Well, if it’ll let me slip out of this,” said Shamhat, rubbing her headdress resentfully. “It’s heavy, and I only wear it for ceremonial occasions.”

Nisrioch bowed. “This way then.” As he turned he rubbed his cheek. It still stung from where she’d pinched it.

Oddly enough, he found this less irritating than he would have imagined.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

In Memorium--Part 3

The boy with rainbow-colored eyes stared at the charts intently.

“The Bringer of Victory lays in the House of Glory,” he declared levelly, pointing to the stars. “Further, it is influenced by the Unholy Flail.” He looked up. “Your undertaking will succeed, if done within the next three weeks. You must approach by the south, however. And travel under darkness.”

“That then is your divination?” asked the tall man with long black hair.

The boy nodded. “It is, sir.”

“Excellent.” Lord Shaddad Cthonique looked at the two men seated to his right, a pair of red-headed Erls, clad in green and yellow respectively. “Estramin, Eudropin. Can you do this?”

The brothers nodded. “It will be done, Your Magnificence,” declared Estramin, fiddling with the sleeve of his green shirt, while Eudropin merely smiled.

Shaddad turned back to the boy. “And what of the Alts?”

“The Red Gate is in ascendance in the Crown of Majesty,” answered the boy. “It must be done by a Dark Lord.”

Shaddad smiled. “I see then that I have work as well. Orrill requires my aid, it seems.” He looked at the boy again. “Very good, Nisrioch. Please roll up your charts. This session is at an end.” Nisrioch did as Lord Shaddad asked, silently and efficiently, the Dark Lord watching him all the while. “Also, Nisrioch, I wish you to walk with me a ways,” he said.

Nisrioch tucked his charts into a sleeve and bowed. “As you wish, Your Magnificence.” He fell behind Lord Shaddad and exited the room.

The pair walked in silence for awhile. “I thought I might have to handle the Alts myself,” noted Shaddad pleasantly. “Poor Bizet Maganza. He’s not living up to my hopes. I’d think he’d have been able to kill Malprimo by now.”

“The White Fox is crafty,” said Nisrioch. “Still, he will fall in the fullness of time.” He shut his eyes. “Three years, if fortune is with him. A month, if it is not.”

Shaddad laughed merrily. “And what of his little son, Asterot?”

“That I cannot See,” replied Nisrioch.

Shaddad glanced away. “Well, you’ve given me some hope, at least.” He raised a hand. “Enough. This matter in the Shadow Woods--complicates things.” He looked at Nisrioch pointedly. “My bride is coming within a fortnight, Nisrioch.”

“Lady Shamhat Sekhmetides Maganza,” said Nisrioch flatly. “Dark Lord of the Blasted Heath, Maganza of the Silent Tomb. Great is her lineage, and great is her honor. She brings glory to whatever house…”

“I know all this, Nisrioch,” said Shaddad amusedly.

“I am sorry, Dark Lord,” answered the child.

“You are young,” noted Shaddad. “As is she. I wish you, Nisrioch, to meet her. When she arrives.”

Nisrioch bowed. “It will be done, Dark Lord.”

“Keep her company. Keep her amused,” said Shaddad.

“I will try, Dark Lord,” said Nisrioch.

The pair stared at each other for a while, these two Erls who looked so much alike. “You’re a good boy, Nisrioch,” said Shaddad. “A very good boy.”

“I attempt to please you, Dark Lord,” replied Nisrioch.

“I know that,” answered Shaddad. For a moment, he almost seemed ready to pat Nisrioch on the shoulder. But then he turned, and walked away. Nisrioch impassively watched him leave, then headed to his chambers. As the boy moved through the halls of Castle Terribel, the staff kept their distance. Nisrioch was not a beloved figure to the people of the Castle. He was the Dark Lord’s--trusted servant, and thus, best left to himself.

Not that Nisrioch cared. He arrived in his chambers, shut the doors, and blew out his candles. Then felt a familiar hand run through his hair.

“Nisrioch, my darling boy,” said Zamial, as she appeared out of the darkness. “Thou hast grown since last I saw thee.” The demon frowned. “When was that?”

“Hello, Mother,” said Nisrioch. “And it was a year ago. A year, two months, and three days, actually.”

Zamial grabbed Nisrioch affectionately by the shoulders. “Such a clever boy, such a darling boy, such a pretty and a precious boy.” She raised Nisrioch in the air. “The Amirant is dead, my little son, his blood spilt on the sand. Now his kinsman take him to the Valley of the Princes to wrap him up in fine linen, and preserve him in honey and spice.” She smiled at her son, her rainbow eyes glowing in the darkness. “Wouldst thou seest this, my beauty? See the Prince of Ghouls laid to rest?”

Nisrioch nodded. “I would, Mother.”

Zamial wrapped her arms around Nisrioch. “Then come with me, my treasure, for I may move through all times and places in the twinkling of an eye.”

And then Zamial and her son vanished.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Memorium--Part 2

Elaine glanced at the pages before, and smiled. “Ah-ha!” she declared, scratching something down on the sheet of paper on the table at her side. “Thought you could hide from me, did you? Well, I am the master discrepancy finder, and I…” She stopped, as Nisrioch entered the library.

Nisrioch nodded at his niece, and walked to a bookshelf. “I’m making notes on how Kvasir the Elder, Mimir, and Kvasir the Younger contradict each other on key historical points,” she said sheepishly.

Her uncle smiled at her. “Sounds fascinating.” He pulled a couple volumes off the shelf. “I’m looking into differences between the Mountain Rite of the Medb, the River Rite of the Badb, and the Wood Rite of the Scathach!”

Elaine blinked. “That… does sound kind of cool.” She glanced away. “It’s… kind of too bad the Medb and the Scathach no longer exist…”

“Well,” said Nisrioch, yanking several books off the shelf, “we have been left with plentiful sources…”

“Hey, Nissy!” said Morgaine, stomping into the room. “Tonight’s the big night!”

Nisrioch winced. “Ahh. Yes. Your séance.”

Morgaine crossed her arms, and grinned at her brother. “Naturally, you’re coming...”

Nisrioch fidgeted uncomfortably. “Ahh, yes… I was considering… considering, mind you--not showing up for this one…”

His sister froze, and narrowed her eyes. “What?”

“Well, you know,” said Nisrioch. “I have things to do…”

“More important than piercing the veil that separates life and death, and talking to Mother?” hissed Morgaine.

Nisrioch glanced away. “You make it sound as if it’s actually happening, Morgaine.”

Morgaine glared at him. “This time IT WILL! Eighteen! Twenty-four! Six! Three! Four!” She waved her fist. “Mystic!”

“I love you too, Morgaine,” said Nisrioch, with a sigh.

“I knew I shouldn’t have done this,” muttered Morgaine, pouting slightly. “You’re always a killjoy about this, Nissy! Always! Always!” She tapped her chin. “Should I say it one more time for extra emphasis?”

“Wouldn’t hurt,” said Nisrioch with a shrug.

“ALWAYS!” yelled Morgaine. She waved her fist. “I tell you, sometimes, it’s like you don’t want me to pull Mother across the void.” Nisrioch stared at his sister, rainbow eyes refracting light. Morgaine glanced away. “Okay. Low blow. Sorry. But… I need you to be there.” She stared at him pointedly. “I mean, I had Nerghal track you down.”

Elaine glanced up. “You know, that actually sounds kind of creepy.”

Morgaine turned to her niece. “I’m starting to enjoy your company, kid. Don’t ruin it.”

Elaine went back to her notes. “I’ll be good.”

Morgaine turned again to her older brother. “Look, I’d like you to be there, okay? Just--think about it.” And with that, she left the library.

It was quiet there for a while. Elaine glanced at her uncle, who was busily gather books. “It might be interesting,” she noted.

“It might be,” agreed Nisrioch. “But it probably will not. I’ve attended quite a few of these things, Elaine. They tend to devolve into everyone sitting around a table, while Morgaine swears she heard something.”

“She really misses her mother, doesn’t she?” asked Elaine.

Nisrioch looked at the family portrait that hung in library. “We all miss Lady Shamhat.” He frowned slightly. “She was… a wonderful person.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In Memorium--Part 1

Jean groaned as she tried to pivot on her left leg while raising her right foot. “How is this a magic lesson again?” she stated.

“The body is the lens through which magic travels,” said Nisrioch, looming over his apprentice as she performed her exercises on the walls of Castle Terribel. The tall Erl struck a pose. “It must sparkle, shining brilliantly in the light, to get the full effect!”

Jean placed her hands on her hips. “How does me displacing my joints make me… sparkle?”

Nisrioch smiled. “In time you will understand the soundness of my methods.” Jean rolled her eyes.

“Hey, all!” shouted Morgaine as she toddled into view on a pair of extremely unstable-looking high heels, a black iron crown on her head. She looked at Jean sympathetically. “Magic training, eh?” She shook her head. “It’s a bitch.” The undead Cthonique shrugged. “Just keep at it, though. It’s worth it.”

Jean frowned at the Dark Lord. “Yeah. Easy for you to say. You’re finished with this.”

Morgaine stared at her for a moment, then leaned backwards, and raised her left leg. With a deft motion, she grabbed her foot with her right hand, then released it. She then bent her leg back, and touched the back of her head with it. “You’re never finished with this,” said Morgaine, as she righted herself. She glanced at Nisrioch. “Pretty good, eh?” She gestured towards her shoes. “And I’m doing it in these things, so that has to be worth double points!”

Nisrioch stroked his chin, rainbow-colored eyes narrowing. “Hmmm… I’m willing to give you five bonus points for them. Is that acceptable?”

Morgaine considered things. “It’ll do.” She crossed her arms. “So--Nissy--it’s that time of year again…”

Nisrioch sighed. “I know. I was hoping you’d given it a rest…”

“Oh, that’s great, Nissy!” snapped Morgaine. “Could you be any more patronizing?”

Jean blinked. “Wha…?”

“Hush, we’re talking!” declared Morgaine, raising a hand in admonishment. “It’s the eighteenth anniversary of her death, Nissy--her death at the age of twenty-four.” Morgaine raised an eyebrow. “Eighteen. Twenty-four. Sequential factors of six. By the numbers three and four respectively.” She leaned forward. “I don’t have to tell you how mystically significant all this is.”

“Clearly you do,” said Nisrioch with a smile, “as that is precisely what you’re doing.”

Morgaine frowned and crossed her arms. After chewing on her bottom lip for a moment, she glared at her brother. “Big mystic stuff! She’s bound to show up this time!”

“That’s what you said last time,” replied Nisrioch. “And the time before that. And…”

“Just BE there,” declared Morgaine, turning to walk away. “Honestly, it’s like you don’t want to see her again…”

Jean waited for Morgaine to get out of earshot before turning to Nisrioch. “So--what was that about?”

“It’s the anniversary of Lady Shamhat’s death,” said Nisrioch simply. “Morgaine has held séances for the last sixteen years trying to reach her spirit.”

“Oh,” said Jean. “That’s--her and Mansemat’s…”

“Mother, yes,” declared Nisrioch brusquely. “A wonderful woman, as I have said in the past. Now seventh form, apprentice. Seventh form!”

Jean glared at him. “That one’s impossible.”

“And has Morgaine’s demonstration taught you nothing?” asked Nisrioch, one white eyebrow arching.

“Yeah. That being dead helps your flexibility,” muttered Jean.

“It does nothing of the kind,” declared Nisrioch. “Believe me. We’ve checked.”

Jean gulped slightly, and looked away. “Well, I don’t see you doing these ridiculous things,” she spat out.

Nisrioch immediately leapt in the air and grabbed his feet. He then twirled around midair, released his feet, landed on his hands, then pushed off with them, righting himself. Jean stared at him, her jaw hanging open. “Seventh form, apprentice,” he announced cheerfully.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Matter of the Matchsticks--Part 18

Porone Belltower sipped his wine as Tisiphone played her lute. He glanced around the room. Armida’s was close to empty, tonight. “Odd time, these last few days” he stated quietly.

The blind girl simply nodded and continued playing. “Someone is coming,” she noted.

Porone nodded, and turned to see Menadarb entering the room. “Well--young Brighthand. It has--been awhile.”

“I don’t go by that name anymore, Belltower,” replied Menadarb casually.

Porone nodded quietly. “You’ve broken your father’s heart, you realize,” said the older Erl.

“Good,” replied Menadarb. “That shows he still has one.” He glanced around the room. “I was hoping to speak to Rhea…”

“She is out,” said Tisiphone softly.

“Ahh.” Menadarb nodded swiftly. “Will she be back soon?”

“No,” replied Tisiphone, tuning her lute.

“I see,” said the young Erl. “Well--tell her I was here.” And with that, he headed towards the door.

“Won’t you stay for a drink?” asked Porone suddenly.

“No,” answered Menadarb. “Exile and all that.”

Porone sipped his wine, eyes fixed on the young man. “And where will you go, now that you must leave?”

Menadarb smiled slightly to himself. “I’m making for Carcosse. Foxglove has people there. And they tell me--there’s work to be done there.”

“You’ve an interesting life ahead of you,” noted Porone. Menadarb simply nodded, and left. Porone was silent for a long while. Finally, he glanced at Tisiphone. “We’ve helped ruin that young man. I hope you know that.”

Tisiphone put down her lute. “We did not start the Cheapside fire, Friend Porone.”

“So I have been assured,” noted the merchant acidly. “It still does not help. You had Rhea encouraging that young fool every step of the way. And why? Why did we help the Hands on this one? What did the Necklace gain?”

Tisiphone idly tuned her instrument for awhile, before even deigning to answer. “Friend Porone, you are supremely useful Link--but in the end, only a Link. The whole of our design is denied to you. What the Necklace has gained in this is beyond your ability to see. And you may never see it, even when the moment of our triumph arrives.”

Porone sighed. “Of course, Friend Tisiphone. And I am--increasingly used to hearing this. But still…”

Tisiphone began to play again. “We did very little in all this, Friend Porone. Merely quietly facilitated what would have likely occurred without us. When they write the history of this down, none will ever know we were even involved.”

“Thank the Lady for that,” said Porone. “This is not something I’m proud of.” He looked glumly at his empty glass. “It’s the girl I feel most sorry for. She’s half in love with that young man, you realize. Did you see that coming, when you plotted all this out? Or did you even care?” He raised his hand, and gave a dismissive wave. “Ignore what I say. I am drunk, and sad, and lonely.”

“I sometimes wonder how you manage,” noted the blind lautist.

“I’m a man who puts more store in necessity than pride,” answered the older Erl sadly. He refilled his wineglass, stared at it for a moment, then gulped it down.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Matter of the Matchsticks--Part 17

Jean watched the people file out of the room. “So that was it?” she asked. “All this production, and in the end Manny just says ‘pay them properly, let them take breaks, and make sure your factories aren’t deathtraps’.”

“Oh, no, Miss Crow,” said Nisrioch cheerfully. “You’ve left off the part where we watch to make sure they do what we say.” He gave a merry laugh. “Why it will be marvelous!”

Jean nodded to herself. “Yeah. I’m happy for you.”

“No need to be sarcastic, apprentice,” noted the Dark Lord. “I did let you have some of my melon.”

Jean sighed. “Yes. Yes, you did. And it was delicious.”

“Of course,” replied Nisrioch. “It was melon! The Darksome Lady gave them to us so we could have the concept of delicious. They are the pinnacle of the apex of…”

“Damn it, please stop,” groaned Jean slumping forward quietly. She whimpered slightly. “You are just trying to break me aren’t you?”

“Somewhat,” admitted Nisrioch. “It’s part of your training. I must shatter your concept of the possible, then rebuild it, then shatter again, then rebuild it again, then shatter again, and then rebuild it one last time, adding on a delightful little apex…”

Jean rubbed her temples. “Are you certain that your mother is the spooky one?”

“Actually, I’m not,” said Nisrioch quietly. He raised a finger to his lips. “Shhh. Don’t tell.”

Jean turned away, and saw Menadarb leaving the court. “I still don’t get why he wound up exiled…”

“Old laws,” said Nisrioch. “Really, it’s as much a form of protection as it is a punishment. And--it’s only temporary.”

“I know, but--” Jean shook her head. “I just thought--things would--finish more.” She watched Menadarb walk past his father, who desperately signaled his son. “I mean--the problems that started all this--they’re still here…”

“Well, that is life, my dear,” noted Nisrioch. “We strive and strive to solve the problems of our existence. And that is good. It is when we cease to do so that we fail.”

Jean stared at her instructor. “Now I know I’ve been hanging out with you too long. I’m trying to figure out how many meanings what you just said can have. I’m thinking… a lot.”

“You ARE learning,” noted Nisrioch with delight.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Matter of the Matchsticks--Part 16

“After the fire in Cheapside, I found myself trying to understand how it had happened,” explained Menadarb. “The answer was, I’m afraid rather horrifically easy to uncover and understand--wanton, systematic neglect by the owners, coupled with numerous abuses of their employees.”

“Indeed,” said Mansemat. “These are serious allegations you’re making young Mr. Brighthand.”

“I… prefer to be called ‘Flamefist’, sir,” replied Mendarb quietly.

“Duly noted,” said the Dark Lord, his chains clinking on his wrists. “But do you have proof, sir?”

“Quite a bit, I’m afraid,” the young Erl stated. “I’m afraid that no one really bothered to hide any of this…” He shook his head. “It’s almost as if they didn’t care. Or even acknowledged the possibility that what they were doing was wrong.”

“I object! I object!” shouted out Meleagans Flaxseed, standing to his feet. “We weren’t doing anything wrong!” He turned around and regarded the courtroom. “Where’s it say a man can’t look after his own profits, eh? That’s all we were doing. Now, I admit that maybe things got a little out of hand, this one time, but these things happen. So I say, let’s just forget about all of this, and get on with our lives.” Flaxseed gave a big boyish grin and looked around the courtroom.

No one smiled back at him. In fact, several people he considered his good friends were staring at him with such contempt that it struck him that they wouldn’t mind if he just happened to die. Meleagans Flaxseed was not an overly bright man, and like most not overly bright men who have been favored by fortune, he had wound up with an ironclad delusion that he was invariably correct. However, even the strongest delusion has its limits, and while it would be wrong to say that Meleagans was forced to rethink his absolute correctness, he was beginning to consider that this was something that was less readily apparent to others.

“Mr. Flaxseed,” stated Mansemat after a moment, “I must advise you that your… unguarded statements not only influence my judgment, but constitute ‘contempt of court‘. Is this clear?”

Meleagans nodded brusquely, and then pointed at Menadarb. “He’s been conspiring to break the City’s peace! Go on, ask him!”

“Mr. Flaxseed, enough,” snapped Mansemat. As the Meleagans sat down, Mansemat glanced at Menadarb. “Do you have any response to these charges?”

“Merely that they are probably correct,” noted Menadarb quietly. “Not in a large way, but… I have been helping the workers organize. To get things done.”

“I see,” said Mansemat. “These are serious matters, young Mr… Flamefist. I am not asked to consider motives in these matters--only results.” He glanced away. “Still it can be dealt with after my decision in the greater case.”

“I… thank you, Your Magnificence,” said Menadarb.

“Don’t mention it,” said the Dark Lord. “Now--please. Continue.”