Lord Shaddad Cthonique smiled and folded his hands before his face. “Excellent, Curselain.”
Nisrioch watched as the emaciated Sworn bowed. “I am pleased Your Magnificence finds it so,” Curselain stated in a theatrical whisper. Nisrioch had to suppress a giggle. It was--like everything about Curselain--just a tad too much. If the Six Sworn had weakest link, it was him. In many respects, Curselain was little more than a skilled hedge wizard, with a rather broad education in folklore. And now--in the slow eclipse of his father’s power, Curselain had crawled ahead of his fellows to become the unofficial head of the Six Sworn.
Of course, thought Nisrioch, that was more properly the Five Sworn now, which simply didn’t have the same ring. One had to give Orrill credit--he may have been a malevolent mad man, but he was at least bright enough to jump off a sinking ship while there was still time to do so. Though, regarding the remaining members it was rather questionable if there was any place left for them to jump to. Men such as Dodinas le Savage, with his necklace of gruesome fetishes, or the bitter and hunchbacked Perard Malcreature, had turned to his father in the first place because they had no one left to go to. And now, that last refuge was falling.
“Nisrioch!” snapped Shaddad.
“Mmmm?” murmured Nisrioch, turning his rainbow eyes on the Dark Lord of the Plains of Dread.
“I asked you a question,” muttered Shaddad bleakly.
“Ahh. Sorry, Your Magnificence,” declared Nisrioch brightly. “I was musing.”
Shaddad frowned peevishly and ran a hand through his long, black hair. “On what, may I ask?”
Nisrioch watched as his father’s hand took on a slightly blackish hue. “Walnut pie, for some strange reason.” He smacked his lips. “Ahh. Now there was treat. Of course, why I would be thinking of it is a mystery even to my…”
Lord Shaddad, who smelled of walnuts quite frequently these days for reasons he was exceptionally embarrassed about, glared at his son. “Let us cut this… musing short. My question. How stand my designs in the realm of fate?”
“Oh, that,” said Nisrioch with an annoyed sigh. “The same as before, Dark Lord. I see House Cthonique reborn from its ashes once again. But only vaguely.”
“That is all the help you can give?” asked Perard pointedly.
Nisrioch shrugged. “Separated from my equipment, yes. I lack the means here to cast a proper horoscope, and must rely purely on my Sight. And in affairs such as this, it tends to be rather… selective in what it reveals.”
“Ahh, of course,” the hunchback said with a scowl. “How often have we heard that refrain.” He glared at Nisrioch for a moment, then gestured at the younger Erl furiously. “I don’t know who you imagine you’re fooling, half-breed, but I am not among them! You have long abandoned His Magnificence’s glorious cause! You seek to undermine it!”
Nisrioch yawned. “Really now, Malcreature. I freely admit I am less fond of the Dark Lord’s plans of universal conquest than I used to be, but--undermining them? Why should I bother?”
Dodinas spat on the ground. “You wretch,” he muttered. He lifted something out of a pouch, a withered twisted thing that looked vaguely like a man. “You deserve the venom of the mandrake, whelp…”
Nisrioch stood up and raised his hand, small sparks leaping from his fingertips. “Oh, please, little hex master, try your powers against mine,” he said, smiling. “I’m most curious to see how it goes.”
“Please, gentlemen,” whispered Curselain, “let us remember we are all on the same side…”
“You mean like the Crocodile was?” said Perard, loping to Dodinas’ side. “He Swore the Oath--and yet he broke it easily enough. What has the Queen of Fear’s get sworn to? Nothing! And his insolence has only grown worse of late…”
“ENOUGH!” shouted Shaddad, standing up. He glanced at the de Gaheviez brothers, who quickly stepped between Nisrioch and their fellow Sworn. “Curselain has the right of it. Now is not the time to fight each other.” He took a deep breath. “This meeting is over. You are all dismissed.” He glanced at his son. “Save for Nisrioch. He stays.” As Estramin and Eudropin herded their fellows out, Shaddad regarded his son severely. “Lady’s Love, Nisrioch, are you trying to provoke them?”
“Not particularly,” said Nisrioch. “I just don’t care if I do. There’s a subtle difference.”
Shaddad seemed about to reply to that, but then simply frowned. After several long minutes, he spoke. “And you have no news for me on this plan?”
“Save that I half suspect that the reason my readings have been so doubtful of late is that you’ve been working to block all divinations on what you’re planning, that is correct,” said Nisrioch. He raised an eyebrow. “And I must add that suspicion does nothing to make my already mounting doubts in this plan’s wisdom recede.”
Shaddad looked up into his son’s eyes for a moment, then turned away. “I am a man running out of options, Nisrioch. House Cthonique must be saved. That is my duty.”
“You say ‘House Cthonique’,” noted Nisrioch. “But you mean, ‘Lord Shaddad’.”
“They are one and the same,” said the Dark Lord.
Nisrioch sighed and shook his head. “Only you, father, would utter such solipsistic nonsense and think it wise.” He left the tent, his father’s bright amber eyes staring daggers in his back.