A Somber Night
As the bells continued to boom those sepulchral, deep tunes commonly played at local funerals, Aaschgh'rd was the first to find his words again, as if he had been expecting the whole proclamation. While the bewildered customers kept peeking out of the windows or staring into the ceiling, as if foolishly hoping to behold through the solid roof some kind of grim omen looming in the sky, the man fixed his glare again on Hiid.
"And thus are brought forth the dire fruits of the calamity..." he hissed, his voice rising with every syllable, "Imprudent wench, able nay to keep your foolish curiosities locked into the deepmost heart-chambers of yours wherein they ought to have stayed hidden forevermore! Nay, yourself you had to betake with the speed of high-winds to meddle with the sacred sleep of the elderday lords, stumbling into the threads of balances and leaving but turmoil behind! Or, has the Bane himself been whispering into your heedless, greedy ears in the deepmost of night-tides? What did he promise you for the utter ruin of the last of the kingly houses? HUH?"
As Aaschgh'rd's vocabulary was much akin to that of his father, pompous and married with several treetrunk-thick dictionaries, his seemingly irrational wrath was almost a pure mystery for Hiid. But amid the mad drivel she could distinguish the accusation of her being a pawn of evil of somekin.
"Ei hav noot ta doos vit eem Bein; sirra vas eem erst who tole me e'en aboot it dids! Ei nay ken vut hap-end has to ye, but eem fault cannae be lyy... lie... eem fault cannee be mein. Ei been heer all dem tide, nay elsveer, gran-nee Ggrhhirrrn kens." She was surprised by the sudden strength in her voice, as a handful of days agone she had been but a silly, weeping heap before the thunderous form of king Lhietd. Mayhaps all these crackbrained happenings needing constant wriggling-through were finally building up her courage a tad.
But Aaschgh'rd mangled face split into a spiteful leer, and he waved Hiid's defenses away with an irritated whisk of a hand. "Ha, ha, HA. Thuswise do they all recite; those with tri-forked tongues and ill deeds worming in their canny hearts akin to the serpents-bastards of the pus-daimons feasting in their slimy yonpits! Such feeble denials have I harked by the thousand..."
The mechanic involuntarily shrunk back in her chair, as he advanced on her.
"Ei voold un-deer-stend if ye voolds me tells vut tees be aboot, Ei donnee ken vat be yer anger voor."
"Oy, Aaschgh'rd! Whut's com ta pass? Wha' has 'em bchiggphiruch'lha-ichnj duns now?" someone in the befuddled audience grunted. And, suddenly, there were several other angry frowns cast upon Enkev.
It is the law of the mob that if you have one already suspicious target and an accuser bearing even a morsel of status or charisma, the majority of the crowd will side with the latter. Even if they wiste about the issue at hand just as much as haddocks do about Himalayan tennisballmaking. Hiid, as has been mentioned several times before, was not an omni-adored sparklyprincess gamboling together with popping-eyed fawns. You could hear the echoes of distrust in the bynames she had received during the years. Being inherently accident-prone had not exactly improved the little positive reputation she had amassed on the field of alchemy and gadget-repairing. Halfling was mostly neutral, but bchiggphiruch'lha-ichnj, 'a puny imp' had indeed a spiteful edge to it. It seemed yet another one of those universal laws that everything diverging from the yawny humdrum would automatically receive scowls from certain types of people. Aye, all better remain 'em way it had fro' 'em dawn o' tides; dere woul' be nay havin' with sum outlandish wossnames an' 'eir heathen lingo!
According to the Rha-kan'Ockian real-mythology, a sect of bald, runty nether-wights with skin the color of sour milk capered down in the deathpits. Vindictive associations easily took shape, as Hiid's name was usually mistaken to the genitive form of Ghi'izsch anyhow. Or sometimes even to ghiitdeeschz, 'giant', which naturally caused even more cackles.
"What has come to pass? WHAT?" Aaschgh'rd snorted derisively, "WHAT! HAH! Can ye nay hark the somber herald of death, bearing ye the tidings of utter grimness in its blood-soaked arms on this very hour? Lift the blindfolds from before your dull eyes and behold even the welkin and the wind-maidens of Yl-maargh'Inegn lamenting at the dismal fate of the strongest of the G'Uhageids in the curst claws of the minions of the Bane, damned be he unto the dimming of the welkins and forevermore thereafter, and may the bale-hammer of Tghuonegh'err crush his flayed carcass in the Duskend! The beloved brethren of mine, the heirs of the kings, wiped out from the plains of Rha-kan'Ocka akin to the meanest of creepers, devoid of e'en the dignity of battlefields, whereon a wight might pass on into the courts of Tghuonegh'err with many an honor shining upon his brow! HAH! Nought for the poor brethren of mine, but an oblivion eternal..."
It was evident the elf was in some kind of prolonged shock strangling all rational thinking. Tears burst out from the corners of his swollen eyes, and his mauled hand shook as he pointed at the mechanic with the bandaged stump of a finger.
"AND W-WHERE LIES T-THE FAULT B-BUT BEFORE HER MAGGOTY FEET OF YONWORLDS AND BRIMSTONE PITS?" Here, he hit his fist so hard on the table at which Hiid sat, that its legs collapsed underneath. A set of empty plates together with an almost full tankard crashed onto the floor, spilling beer and scattering fragments of glass everywhither.
"What was the prize, s-so that the Nameless might reach the forbidden realms t-through his nether-prison of ice and fire-"
"Ei hav doons noot to ye or anevan els! Ye cannee pleim Ei voor..." She pleaded, the old panic beginning to take a grip on her anew.
It seemed one table-wrecking was not enough for the deranged princeling. With a lash of crackling lightning from his fingers, he made a couple of more sets of furniture around crash into pieces. However, it was to wonder whether he in his state even perceived using magic. The practice of the more dangerous kinds of spells in public places was governed by strict rules, and a G'Uhageid certainly should have kenned where not to cross the line.
"Do nay taint the air before the heirs of the elderday highlords by wagging your soiled, impudent tri-fork tongue! Oh, what poorly disguised lies for aye worm forth from the foul lips of the bastards of yonworlds; howe'er d-dare you-"
The whole ordeal might have ended in a truly nasty manner, if a minor deus ex machina had not kicked in again. A ring of 7-foot men with their arms akimbo around you is for aye an ill portent, unless you are a 30-foot giant wielding an armful of nuclear bombs. Hiid gazed at them in turn, gulping, breathing becoming shallower by the second, waiting for the first fist to strike. She had just instinctively raised her arms in front of her to shield any vital parts, when the front door to the pub smashed open.
"Aaschgh'rd! Wherefore do you nay harken to the words of your elders? Your brethren and I did nay bequeath you the right to take leave, you foolish boy!" a furious, several times magnified voice thundered over the clamor of the bells and the elf's raving. "And what be this rioting of utter mindlessness herein? STAND ASIDE!"
Before anyone could give voluntarily way to the newcomer, something invisible rushed its way through the room and forced the townsmen thronging around Aaschgh'rd and Hiid to totter several steps back and squeeze into one another. It was as if rough, unseen warders had been shoving them aside. Through the clear patch of floor thus formed limped forth Guarh G'Uhageid, lightning alike crackling in the tips of his fingers and his usually amiable, grinning visage drawn into a hideous, broken-toothed snarl. He was hardly a prettier sight beside his mangled son, even though he had somehow retained the two-meter ponytail as opposed to Aaschgh'rd's near baldness. But the bandages were copious and his garments dirty and torn. The formerly blind eye had either been plucked away or burst, as the commonly covered socket gaped empty and reedy.
Yet, a pinpoint of red light, similar to the one that flamed in the pupil of his good eye as a side-effect of magic-channeling, shone in the elsewise dark hole. This detail considerably contributing to his hideousness mayhaps had a minor positive aspect in that it caused evident fright. At least those who had not been jostled aside by the ramming spell gasped and staggered back upon the mere sight of him. Order was definitely craved for right now.
Both G'Uhageids seemed to have gone through such an ordeal that a plain human would not have been able to saunter around in an equal condition. Decomposing might have been the only valid state for such a poor bugger anyhow. Being a zinigh'aldjaah had its perks even if you had to suffer from a rather trollish appearance: faster healing, mighty endurance, quick speed and reflexes, and magical means besides to aid you with recovery. Even so, they could not altogether be saved from disabilities and scarring, as had been pointed out many a time erenow.
A half-insane cackle rumbled out of Aaschgh'rd's throat, and he flung his arms up into the air, wincing with pain as he did so. "Brethren? WHAT BRETHREN? HAH! Gone are t-they, co-consumed by the b-black spirits of-offsh the Bane, their ssh-souls evermore trapped into the n-nameless grim-halls ofhh... otherworlds wherein the g-grace of the Immortals shall ne'er ssh... shine! Nayhh... n-not e'en before the stone t-throne of Tghuonegh'err and his Lady c-could they nobly wend their ways!"
"Shut up and HARK YOUR ELDERS; this be a matter of-"
"HAHAHAH! Gone, g-gone! And all this because of t-this filthy, p-puny traitor who insidiously went thh... tampering with the balances-"
"This has nought to do with..."
"Nought? You yourself read that flyblown little mind of f-fire-belching yonpits a-and beheld hhh... h-however she groveled before the Khalm'anch Vghaekg and u-undertook whoever kens what baleful errands of t-the Bane to accomplish this-"
It appeared Guarh had had enough. There was a flick of an arm, and Aaschgh'rd reeled back, barely retaining his balance. A deep silence descended upon the chamber therewith, and it seemed that even the din of the bells reached out but through a thick stonewall, distant and muffled.
All roaring and curses suddenly forgotten, Aaschgh'rd sniffed back tears, raising slowly the stumps of his fingers onto his purpling cheek. He blinked muzzily at his fury-seething father, who stood there taller than him, hand still outstretched after the hard slap.
"Many a son and daughter of old Guarh passed on into the cold, grim pathways leading to the gates of the nether-lords ere you pushed yourself forth from your mother's loins or the seed that was buried into the rich soil ever e'en left the mighty garners of the G'Uhageids! With their little, soft fingers were they forced to grasp the chilly, calloused hands of the mha-na'njvhiej, weeping for their mother whose warm, sweet milk they ne'er would feel on their tongues anew and whose soft, caring breast would nevermore be their blest sanctuary. Thank the grace of the heavenlords and rejoice, for yeartides of fourteen thousand have you beholden, into your inheritance have you risen, and still stand on your own feet even after the dire perils of yesterdays!" Guarh hissed through his clenched teeth.
"It be a mightful feat by itself to reach an age such as that beneath the iron scepter of the Dusk wherein a wight may go hoarfrosted ere his ten-thousandth nameday, or perish in the uncountable wars that have raped and mutilated our homeland since the Duskfall. Rejoice, for you are still alive, unlike many a sib of yours who halted breathing in their cradles or were thrown into the embrace of illness or some deathly misfortune of otherkin perchance even ere their first full thousand! Oh, but forced old Guarh has been to witness every single one of those swipes of Tghuonegh'err's grim-hammer, behold every single one of those droplets of the kingly seed to crumple into ashes. Did you mayhap deem I did not love and cherish all my heirs equally? Every birth was a joy sent upon me by the heavenlords, every death a dire strike from the Bane right through the inmost chambers of the heart! And yet, ne'er has old Guarh lost his mind akin to this, so that he would have been reduced but into a driveling, bawling clodpoll!"
At this point, Guarh's rasping dripped with pure venom. Aaschgh'rd had not uttered a single syllable since the blow, but kept staring at the floorboards, tears rolling down his bruised face.
"Through countless losses, grim and everlasting, have my sweet lady Ghirn and I trudged during our fifteen thousand yeartides, beneath this tiring yoke of the Dusk and its bleak miseries. It be a high time you steel your weakling, soppy heart, you foolish boy, as the help of mine have you repeatedly and heedlessly refused! For the End-Time of the foretellings has surely arrived, and there be nay room beneath the dusky welkins for pantywaist milksops who soil themselves upon beholding a droplet of blood! Eke, did I nay over and over again press my thumb on the matter that the fault to this lies nowhere but before MY erred feet? The harnesses to the ends, beginnings, and causes are not being held by anyone else's hands but those of the Bane and the Deliverer to come from the seed and blood of the yoretide kings. This silly lass has nought to do with AUGHT. Just as well you might set thistle-circlets of fault upon the brow of every village-wench who in the foolishness of her youth has become bewitched by the charms of a mightful nether-lord, our blest forefather-brother Vanhvha'gah amongst the worst of those who still long for the warmth of the hidden sun from beyond the ice-walls of Tghuonegh'lchach. There be a tide and a place which wrong for us all can turn out; such are the twisted wyrds and the tangled tapestries of tides they weave!"
The gaffer inhaled deep after the ranting avalanche, and let his red-burning glare fly around the room. "And ye! Go home to your families or get back to whate'er errands there be, but tremble in your puny loinpockets if ye should let your rash hearts submit to foolishness over a matter of which ye weet plainly nought! If a word of any such deeds of ill and foolhardiness ought to reach the ears of Lord G'Uhageid, the consequences detrimental shall be. Ye took the oath of peace upon entering the service of the G'Uhageids; nay were ye invited hither, so that ye might quarrel amongst yourselves and pass on poor judgment, but to breed and prosper in wealth such as there lies nowhere in this torn and mauled land of our forefathers! Hrrhmh?"
As a response, there was an awkward shuffling of feet and some embarrassed mutters of "Yushmilord." and "I ents ha' dun nuffin ill, me ent..." A couple of customers already near the door -- which was hanging lopsidedly by one hinge after Guarh's blustery entrance -- slunk out into the rain. Not too many a second yet ticked past, as the act was reversed. Some gangling, spotty youth with a scraggly mustache was about to step over the threshold, as he was almost overtrodden by the in-darting Ghirn'ubim-Ach and half a score of her various offsprings scuttling at her heels.
"Didn't I... snurrrf... tole ye nay t-to take leave o' me? P-Prithee, I canna ha' 'tis, I ent-" she sobbed, trying in turn to dry her wildly leaking eyes into a damp handkerchief and the equally wet lace cuffs of her shirt. It seemed more or less everyone resembled a fountain this e'entide.
"Fine..." Guarh placed an arm around her shoulders, yet continued to scowl at the silenced Aaschgh'rd. The younger elf slouched in a kind of half-stupor in a puddle of beer and broken dishes between two upturned tables, swaying slightly as he attempted to lean on to his crutch. It appeared that the humiliating slap had caused Guarh's words finally to sink in after seemingly several days' worth of fruitless quarrels. As their eyes met, Aaschgh'rd lowered his gaze back to the floor, tears and snot continuing to trickle down into his half-burned beard.
"An' l-look at ye, ye s-silly wee li'l lad, I ent h-havin' wi' ye wanderin' aboot with cracked ribs an' whate'er other bleedin' wossname!" Maternal instincts and perhaps the joy of having at least one of her sons coming back alive shot through Ghirn's grief, and made her against all odds shook off Guarh's comfort. She coggled up to Aaschgh'rd and reached out for his arm. "H-hie, now, come back to us, wh-what a mess ye are, me poor wee lad. Wheref're did ye e'en dare go totterin' about in 'em erst place, by me poor ole heart? Ghgalev-deary dinnay say nay whe' I tucked 'im in an' a-asked m-me wee'er sis to bring 'im summat fer his ssh... s-sleep."
Yet Aaschgh'rd hardly resisted. As the guiding tug came, he started dragging himself slowly towards the egress, ne'er uttering a single complaint.
The graveyard silence fell back upon the room, as the remaining customers and random loiterers pursued with their apprehensive gazes at the exit of the small knot of G'Uhageids. At the threshold, the gaffer resumed his hold on Ghirn, who did not push him away this time.
However, as the door clanked shut on its twisted hinge, every face turned as one to gape or glare at Hiid, who still half-sat, half-cowered in her seat by the upturned tables. She did not remain to explain or wait for the first mouth to open, but gathered swiftly up her belongings and rushed through the room. Similarly every eye rolled to witness her departure. It had been a prime show-hour in the oft rather sluggishly onward-roaming life of Uhageiden Rho-dkhl'haakgz, and the rumormillstones would surely spin red-hot thereafter.
Outside and several blocks away, Hiid reeled to a halt beside a gushing drainpipe, gasping for breath. It was already hard to see in the sparsely lit streets of post-twilight, the veil of constant rain making every outline even more blurred, but her eyes twinged so much it was hard to keep them open in the first place.
The tears of anger and humiliation had welled out two streets agone, but now they were practically overflowing. Oh, and it was such an excellent weather for being an insufferable weepywench in distress, a snide voice in her mind commented through the muddle of resentment and confusion. It for aye overcasted when misery dragged itself around, just akin to the fact that lightning always struck on dramatic moments, even if the sky had been completely clear two seconds afore. Or that a dungeon was bound to have damp, moss-covered walls and a flagstone floor even if it was built inside a firking ultramodern spaceship.
Aye, and the drainpipe puking on her shoes just about topped the cliché cake. The mere thing missing would be a slow violin music with overstretched notes yawling in the background.
There, attempting to blow her nose into some scrap of cloth and get the prickling cease somewhat, Enkev was not definite on what was the worst part here. The matter of being mostly ignorant over this... ehh... disaster of somekin scarcely improved aught. Someone or several someones of high importance had died, that was evident. Aaschgh'rd in his mad wrath had yet somehow connected her to the happenings, and... Oh, what the bleeding, damn hellpits was going on? Why did she repeatedly have to remain in the dark, and become accused of something she either had not meant or hardly been guilty of in the first place?
And what was this blather about the Bane? By Dthg'aar's fire-wossnames, she had heard about this dark-spirit-something-hazard for the first time merely a couple of days agone! How could she possibly have anything to do with him?
As if it was not already annoying enough to have yet another cliché flapping about. Every insufferable heroic epic always had this Ancient Nefarious Menace bound somewhere and whom the Chosen One had to face in some kind of Last Battle. Rha-kan'Ocka's high throne had already been conquered by some loon actually calling himself a Dark Lord, which was just about one of the most idiotic things out there besides opera houses needing secret underground caves where some cracked bloke dreamed of playing his organ with the dazzling new singstress or talking ravens being able to learn no other word than 'nevermore'. Was not simply one Ancient Nefarious Menace enough? Pssth.
Hiid stepped underneath the eaves of the hut and leaned against the wall. Her heart was gradually stopping its mindless hammering, and she sounded less like some rubber toy with a broken squeaker. Bloody hellpits, how she had always loathed running. Walking, fine. Carrying around heavy things, fine. But this... blyeargh. Had she wanted to be a gazelle, she would have taken one of those cross-species surgeries popular in some 'alternative lifestyle' circles of Iota Sphere. Yeahno.
She buttoned her still open-hanging coat up to her chin and fastened the cloak tighter. No, there was no hope of kicking these partly frightening, partly vexing images out of her head. The glares of the mob, Aaschgh'rd's rictus of a snarl, the confusion... Also, with a jolt, she realized how horribly jealous she was to the G'Uhageids, especially Ghirn. They had suffered a great loss, aye, but they had... this... comfort.
Comfort from one another in the middle of hardships. Nobody there had to suffer alone in half-ignorance, unlike... unlike...
Gritting her teeth, she gulped back a new surge of tears. Bleeding... d-damned h-hellpits... The memory of Guarh resuming his gentle hold on Ghirn was branded onto the front of her awareness. Every nano-fraction of a second it jabbed at the inner beast of envy in the eye anew.
Comfort, company, support... versus the loneliness and insecurity of this moment that seemed stretching the span of normal minutes beyond any sensible limits...
This stupid, stupid weeping again... stupid rain, stupid darkness, stupid world, damn it with everything!
So... What would be her 'fate' the following morn? Would it be easier if she just submitted to the obvious and adopted a hobbly, lurching way of walking and started carrying a flashing neon sign titled "SPECIAL from THE HOUSE OF !!!!!FREAKS!!!!! The hideous Ghi'izsch of the frightful NETHERPITS now WALKS upon EARTH!!!!!" Oh, and hire a marching band to play some suitably creepy-crawling music in the background...
Or, then it might fall to nought. There might be rumormongring for about a fortnight, and then the 'scandals' might just melt akin to a snowflake on a hot turd. Her brainpaths were of the type which always first meandered past the worst-case scenarios, and then, if time and energy remained, considered briefly the so-called lighter options. However, the reaction of the boorish villagemen before Aaschgh'rd's mystifying accusations was all too foreboding. What if something alike would happen again? There might not be another half-miraculous escape. The phenomenon called lynch mentality could flare up in a matter of minutes and drive even some perfectly reasonable blokes into raving maniacs if the spirit and charisma of the leader caught on.
And... if the suspicion towards her was already this high...
Feeling ever more miserable, she decided to leave the shelter of the eaves, albeit the downpour seemingly but increasing. Bed was the only option now, what with this weep-headache beginning and all, even if it might invite vigilante mobs to bang at the door of Mrs. Mhesch. But where else could she possibly spend the night?
Hummh... there was still that half a jug of ghos'schuz somewhere amid her sparse belongings. It might just be the cure for the ill mood and a surely upcoming insomnia...
For a tiny moment, as the girl sloshed through the perpetual mud and wetness, she wondered whether Gheldah might be of any aid in this uncertainty. Nevertheless... did they actually know each other that well so as to... umh... so that Hiid would be comfortable with pouring her heart out without having a nagging feeling she was merely making a fool of herself? With Granny Ghirn that might work, but... but...
In this situation, Enkev haunting at the G'Uhageid chambers would likely just worsen matters, if she indeed were guilty of something. She could not tell that anymore for sure. The train of her thought had become so bemused that the locomotive had risen up on two wheels, sprouted arms, ripped away a couple of miles of railroad, and then jumped down a cliff into the sea. But aye. Nobody would want the murderer angsting over his miserable sentiments and tragic past into the victim's house of mourning.
Besides, Aaschgh'rd would surely be hovering about. Egads, she would ne'er be able to look him straight in the face hereupon. And, and... she had seriously believed him to be a, well, a pleasant person, not some rabid mouth-foamer. So much for that 'crush' which would literally crush you.
By the crossroads of Ugonwazahm and Imn'jentdanhua, Enkev faltered for a bit anew. Two blocks to the left jutted the house of Ghu'rkigaurgh G'Uhageid, and about the same distance to the left Magister Ghubliv Llhidgyui's shop. She had for aye been in good terms with both families, but, but... There was just no getting rid of the fact that they still were G'Uhageids, in the latter case the Magister's rather young wife and her little sister, who resided under the same roof.
What with there teeming several thousands of those noble-blooded buggers hither and thither in this town, it was quite futile to attempt evading them anyhow. If aught, they certainly were fertile.
Urgh... nay... It be bed, ghos'schuz, and a snivelfest with the pillow for her. Wonder whether Lhietd might let her cry against his huge shoulder instead of the... hrrmh... usual.
And so the night deepened. The bells had finally ceased their grim tolling, and townsmen were gathering on the rain-splattered squares to hear the tidings of loss. Somewhere in the dimly lit, empty hut of Mrs. Mhesch, Hiid sat on the floor and stared dully at the wall opposite with glazed, swollen eyes, an almost empty jug sitting beside her.