“I don’t care what you say, Nissy--that was sad,” muttered Morgaine as she walked beside her brother.
“I’m not denying it,” said Nisrioch. “The… ‘great’ Shaddad Cthonique--reduced to chasing after legends…” He shrugged. “About the only person who doesn’t see how pathetic it all is would be Father. And frankly, I’m not sure his apparent confidence isn’t a massive bluff on his part…”
“I know what you mean,” said Morgaine with a sigh. “Much as I hate Dad’s guts, he’s not THAT stupid. He HAS to be aware how bad off he is…”
Nisrioch nodded. “Still--recall that he began his conquests in similar straits--alone, hunted by Nerghal and his servants, the only surviving son of Lord Bersha. And look at what came of that…”
“Well, yeah, but only because he got help from your… Zamial,” noted Morgaine.
“And do you think that is a thing that comes just for the asking?” said Nisrioch. “Never forget this about our father--he is a man of amazing will, who stops at nothing to achieve his ends.” He shook his head. “There is a greatness to the man, for all the vicious pettiness. He leaves a changed world behind him.”
“Yeah, and it’s mostly for the worse,” spat out Morgaine. She snarled. “I mean what’s he done? Spent years killing people--so he can kill MORE people.” The young Erl shook her head. “I know there’s some endgame, where he stops killing people--at least, in the numbers he was hitting until things went south--but so far I haven’t seen it.” She looked at Nisrioch. “I mean--it’s not something I mention a lot, but the world probably would have been better off if Nerghal had stayed Dark Lord. And he’s such a bastard, that he didn’t even let death stop his being an asshole.”
Nisrioch smiled. “You’re still angry with our great uncle, aren’t you?”
“Damn right I am,” said Morgaine with a snort. “I don’t like being manipulated.” She glanced nervously around the camp. “Are you sure…?”
“The soul cage holds,” said Nisrioch. “Nerghal rests this very moment at my laboratory. I’ll show you when this is finished. I’ll even let you taunt him, if you so desire.”
“Thanks, Nissy.” Morgaine stopped for a moment, and then took Nisrioch’s hand. “You’re a great big brother. Really.”
Nisrioch smiled at his sister. “Thank you.”
“And if you tell anyone I said that, I will kill you,” she noted.
“Naturally.” agreed Nisrioch, nodding. He glanced ahead. “What is that…?”
Morgaine looked at the gathering of Ghouls in front of her tent and clenched her teeth. “Oh, not AGAIN!” This particular band were playing flutes and beating drums as someone sang. She turned to her brother. “They’ve been showing up and doing Ghoulish things as some sort of… homage. Manny keeps encouraging them. Thinks it’s all fascinating.”
“Well, it is!” said Nisrioch. He gestured at the celebrating Ghouls. “Behold them. The unconquered folk of Night! The Empire may have conquered the Erls, the Goblins, the Ogres--even the Devs--but the Ghouls held out in the dark corners of the Heath and Waste, and in the dark ruins of Irem…” He cupped a hand to his ear. “Listen! You hear one of the few languages descended from the old Dark Tongue. Ghoulish!” He scratched his hair idly. “Hmm. A Mikhelite hymn, I believe.”
The pair had reached the entrance of the tent. Mansemat sat there, smiling. He turned to his siblings as they approached.
“Nissy! Morgaine! You have to listen to them! They’re fantastic!” At the center of the Ghouls, a small group lead by Nouronihar were singing and dancing.
“Yeah. Great,” muttered Morgaine. She rolled her eyes. “I’d probably enjoy it better if I knew what it meant.”
“Let me see…” Nisrioch tapped his chin. “Roughly translated, it goes… ‘there’s a man of starlight, awaiting us in the heavens’.” He paused for a moment, trying to get the words just right. “‘He wishes to be one with us, but he is beyond our comprehension. There’s a man of starlight, awaiting us in the heavens--he bids us to respect creation, for he knows that it is righteous. He tells us--let the children be free. Let the children be happy. Let all the children celebrate’.” He coughed. “Well, more or less, anyway.”
Morgaine nodded. “And the bit right now?”
“Is meaningless,” said Nisrioch.
“Lalalalalalala,” sang Nouronihar and her fellows, as the sun slowly set.