Odds and Ends in Rha-ghi'Leh
The soldier's kneeguards clattered against one another, as he trembled just outside Sir Gha'rmach's Small Dunggate, staring at his fellow. Or what remained of him, after having cackled against the face of the travelstained stranger and thereafter attempted to 'teach 'em bloody lyin' boaster ane o'em bleedin' good lessons'. The axe he had brandished mere seconds agone lay half-molten on the gently smoking cobbles, beside the... well. The only positive thing in this whole affair was that his family would save a great deal in funeral costs, as there barely remained aught to bury.
Granted, the ole sergeant had been on the burly side and a damn fine headchopper, but mayhaps, just mayhaps he ought to have looked at the opponent twice ere the... well.
"Hrrhrmmh. And what sshallt be thy quest, o thee puny worthlessh worm-basshtard of pussh-shheeping yonpitssh? Command ussh nay to passh and defend valiantly the gatessh unto thy lassht breath?" Rather bored, Khran-Av'ees inspected at his dirty fingernails, from under which the occasional spark still flew sizzling into the air. Behind him, Ghaagh'urih and Gho-Ni'ngobsch glared at the young soldier, arms akimbo.
"A-eeh... ayeayeayeaye... eerrh... naynaynay, prithee, me means me willna-"
The warlord rolled his eyes. Wherefore, oh wherefore did they for aye place the most dimwitted lackbrains the netherpits might spit out into guard duty? This one would probably toss prisoners into a dungeon with a handy secret passage to the river and furthermore leave the keys hanging from a hook just outside the cell door. The other one had at least borne some spunk. Yet no wight beneath the stormclouds of the Dusk would ever threaten Lord Khran-Av'ees without paying a hefty price.
"Sshalt thy Lord inquire Urih here to bring forth a couple of kantelessh and pipessh to accompany that quite a fetchsshhing rhythm of thy pitiful, weakling kneessh and make ole Gobsshchh to chssant Vahv'audr'ssh Warchargsshe for the merriment of ussh all?"
"Me deems it woul' fit better dem Lhietd's Bonny Ri-" the veteran began, but quickly fell silent as the warlord's gaze flashed red. Oh indeed, he ought to have harked back that just about aught relating to the G'Uhageids had set Khran-Av'ees into a horrible rage lately. Merely three daytides past his nigh-on unruly magic-wielding had burned down a whole tavern in Rhi-sch'Ulach, and all because the pipsqueak had not bothered to heed his silly pansylad twittering.
"Enow with thissh foolisshnessh of utter insshufferablenessh! Thou shhsallssh-sshpfft... shhallssff- GRARRH!"
Blood almost boiling with growing fury and frustration, Khran-Av'ees turned his back on the minions and the squirming soldier for a twinkling. In the shelters of his cowl, he tried to tap some life back to the bothersome left side of his face. Nay, by the bale-screams of Ightd'rhi-Eckghoch, nought was of avail. Since his awakening a fortnight agone, it had been so numb that speaking had become a glaring hardship indeed, not counting the drooling and eye-twitching.
Something... uncanny had come to pass when he had pushed himself through the mind-barriers, journeying into the nameless vales of the Plane of Wyrds. He still could not comprehend even half of it, but the worsening of his handicap had to be a direct result. His powers, however... Something beyond eldritch must have been roiling in his deepmost guts, as he for the erst time in his life-tides had trouble controlling the plain force of them. Hitherto it always had been the other way round, which be quite frightening in its own sense. And the... well, most peculiar dreams he had suffered from of late... or should they be called nightmares...
Yet, there be nay time for all this brooding now; grarrh, there ne'er seemed enow time for aught! All this forced covertness and bloody tomnoddy lackeys messing up his homecoming and... and... MROAARH! In other circumstances, he would have marched through the twenty-one triumph-archways of the Silver Street, glory and victory shining upon his brow, the tall high-kin of this proud capital -- now scoured free of the plague of those filthy lowlanders who were but lesser men, spawned from the dirt of the yonpit maggots -- lauding his glorious entrance with stormy hail-chants and melodies from their instruments.
And now... what, WHAT? Thus reduced to crawl pathetically through some backgate in tattered raiment and a company of seven, out of which one was an unconscious rebel-bastard. Woe upon these ill tides, when the grand became so utterly stripped of all the majesty they ought to have earned a hundredfold!
Attaching the mask back, he turned about to scowl at the soldier. The latter had twisted himself into some kind of vertical knot in order to shield his visage from the warlord's flying spit and hush down the embarrassingly musical knees.
"Didssht thou nay receive an offisshial letter from the outer wall telling that a company of highlordssh wisshing to sshtay undercover wouldth arrive anon at thissh bloody mummer'ssh farsshe of a csshity-gate?"
"Eh... ah... l-letters... aye... but..."
"Hie, unlockessht thou then that trisshe-damned arsshehole of Tghuonegh'urtd anon! Or shallsst Lord Khr- errh, Lord Incognito behe-"
The greenhorn lad might truly have needed to learn afterliving with a detachable attic, had it not been for the officer and a couple of burly swordsmen unlatching the double doors from behind. A new wall had been built around the city-mountain of Rha-ghi'Leh during Khran-Av'ees's reign, and every entrance was constantly observed also from within. His voice would naturally have attracted attention even in a growlmetal concert arranged in the middle of an elephant stampede.
"Halt, there! What be this bleedin' bedlam 'ere..." the officer roared, beckoning at the pursuing elves to unarm the intruders. Yet, his demeanor changed direction akin to a boomerang in tornado, as his gaze first hit the burnt bones of the unlucky sod and thereupon Khran-Av'ees's befanged grimace.
"But... L-lord... Lord Khran? Howe'er be it that milord be 'ere... but... did... didn't I but a smidgen agone behol' yer hi'ness on 'em balcony up... eerh... An' howe'er be it that milord be as if whipped by 'em wrath-hails o' Yl-maargh'Inegn-"
Khran-Av'ees calmed down marginally. Ah. One of these rarities who kenned him better by sight. Hereupon the sordid-gone matters finally ought to find a less potholy course to wend their way along. Verily, it be a trifling weird how few in truth could put a name to his face when beholding it up close, even this nigh the shimmering towers of the palace. The banner of his house was awed throughout the dominion, but he ne'er had included his profile onto the smallcoins, as so many an erstwhile lord had. Well... it admittedly had its benefits. Ne'er could he have traveled around so unnoticed, had his carven likeness been found in every pocket and loinpouch. Yet now he lacked e'en the insignia of his bloodline. And it be true that a wight erst sought for those before paying attention to the face; such had been the lore from the dawn of tides and thus it would remain.
Hah, the decoy in a wig and stilts had played his part quite splendidly, in spite of the, well... rumors roaming around the nation. The plainer folk outside his inner circles still as a rule believed in his ploys, which be the crucialmost point.
"Well? Thou sshouldssht ken the wisshard-might of thy lord and masshter!" Khran-Av'ees whipped up his arms for a special effect, and with a minor spell made his rather mudstained and frayed second-hand cloak billow dramatically behind him. "Cunneth he nay harnessh the plain windssh assh hissh sshteed and sshoar into the nine cornerssh of the land of our forebearssh but in the sshingle crackle of a thunderbolt? Hroaarh? What art thou to quesshtion hissh affairssh of awe and grandeur, o thee puny... err... guardian of dung-gatessh?"
"Eeh... verily, verily, milor' can do as 'em pleases, aye verily... but..."
"Then let ussh passh, and sshendesst thou a messhenger anon up to the palasshe to sshir Ghauen'lheugh! With hasshte he sshalt be toldeth that the yellow-billed dhoudhgh'urpb hath lain five eggsh, out of whichsh one be, alassh, cracked!"
The officer looked utterly nonplussed before this seemingly ludicrous order. "Yellow-billed... pardon me, milord, but..."
"MRAARH? Laughessht thou at the passhtime of thy lord? If he wissheth to sshtudy at the shhplendor and tidessh of rare birdssh and shhare the wondroussh tidingssh with hissh companionssh, howe'er sshalt it be the consshern of thee? By the blasshing boltssh of Ugojh'umal, now, let ussh passh, put a lid over the bubbling pot of thy moronic inquiriessh, and sshet the errand thy lord gaveth thee on the palm of thy right hand! Hie!"
Common senses gibbering, the officer finally commanded the soldiers to stand aside, and allowed Khran-Av'ees's wee companion and the even tinier wagon to enter.
Smiling grimly, the warlord gazed along the well-swept street flanked by domed houses and which after a crossroads or two began winding up towards the high palace of Rha-ghi'Leh. For the erst time in sheer eons he felt that easiness of breath and light giddiness pursuing a tight escape, when the menace truly had lost the scent of trail. Strolling beneath the arch of the gateway and harking to the clangs of firmly closing latches behind had as if unlocked great iron bands from around his chest.
This was home. This was the womb of the mother and the cradle beside the crackling hearth. At least for now.
And all hail the empty-headedness of wall-guards unable to comprehend The Ultimate Dark Lord Secret Code System.
Several hours later, beneath torches casting their ruddy light in the deepening twilight, the true lord of the realm leaned against the banisters of a high balcony, gazing into distance. His homecoming had been greeted with as splendid a feast as one might whip up in such a hurry. Mead streamed, grease dripped from the scrumptious roastlings, and minstrels sung their victory-ballads. From the gloom, the yellow and blue lights of the descending buildings twinkled back at him, and the cool spring breeze ruffled at his once clean-washed hair.
The few topmost parts that had bothered to dry up, that was. Even though the dreadlock monstrosity had been wound, twisted, and stomped on to get the water out, he still left a wet trail behind everywhither he walked. Now some slave had stealthily placed a large bucket just by his feet, whither the somewhat soapy water could drip in its own time without turning the flagstones into a complete slideway.
Ahhhh... this was life, indeed. At least for fleeting moment, ere the mourning for adventure arose anew in his deepmost, hidden heart-chambers. That hight the call of the wild; a true warrior would but diminish and dwindle down to a pitiful shadow of his yoreday glory if forced to linger in dark, dusty palaces, away from the howl of stormwind, the lash of hail and rain against the cheeks, and the brisk breeze beneath the loincloth as you rode along uncharted roads into new battlefields and beyond. Khran-Av'ees already, nigh-on instinctively, sought for the odor of pines and fresh resin in the incense-stuffed air of the palace. More grunts received the almost total absence of vegetation, aside from a couple of wilted potted plants huddling in the rear corners of cobwebbed corridors.
And yet... on occasion the order of stone had its charms. His mouth twisted itself into a lopsided, yet content grin, as he observed at the darkening capital below. Ah, indeed, the city of lords, the city of the higher kin! Lirbutiliiyui's foul, putrid dungheap had been cleaned of its maggots and transformed into a lofty city-palace for the finest of his army. The streets had been re-paved, fine smithies and workshops constructed for those nimble with their fingers or hammer, and mead ran akin to the earth-milk from the heaving breasts of Yl-maargh'Inegn's daughters.
Nought remained of the half-rotten wooden huts or the rag-clad lowlander scum within, save a smattering of gelded slaves, and some others who perchance had a droplet of nobler blood running through their elsewise so muddy veins. Such akin to young Qwertyui. Crafty brains were for aye of value, but those others... well. Hah. Behold their deprived value, as they served a better cause in ashes! Bleeding lazy bastards, begging and sniveling and yowling on the streets, mayhaps ne'er having done a proper day's work! Well, now the crops could feast on their remains, and bread would be brought to the tables of the worthier generations. Step by step, he would thuswise purify the whole elvenland; purge it utterly from such underdeveloped, disgusting filth and crush, grind, CRUSH, GRIND those brittle bones e'en a graveworm would find revolting! On his travels, he had beholden enough of the scum and gems of the western borderlands, and kenned exactly what ought to be done with most of those.
As for his homecoming... A fortnight had passed as he, the survivors of the daimon-peril, and a small guard had journeyed from the borderlands back to the heart of Khrandom. A tiring, dreary travel that had been, indeed, a rush against time and the snide plots of the rebels. Steeds had been changed quick and often, and letters sent by flighty couriers from garrison to garrison had advanced at the band's course. Khran-Av'ees had soon after his awakening dismissed the plan of mobilizing the troops of Rha-bhughsch'Obpjan Schot'durjlhinach. That kind of parade would have attracted too much attention, added to the insufferable slowness of bare road-travel. He had no time to sightsee every mossy menhir and gnarled tree of the wold, but verily yearned for the shelter of the capital and the unconquerable army around, what with furthermore having been unsure of his own stalwartness on those daytides of fright and lapsing ailment. Hence, with little rest they had galloped on, flown whenever possible, miles turning beneath into hundreds and e'en thousands, unto the city-mountain of Rha-ghi'Leh had loomed in the paling horizon.
Despite the haste, the flight had progressed quite smoothly, save a handful of quarrels with bullheaded or overly curious officers in various forts. Some hardship had caused his lack of crests and proper weapons. Urih and Gobsch luckily emerged from well-kenned, old houses with much glory upon their names. Where the letters sometimes failed, there faces, deeds, chanting of lineages, and scraps of proof sown into such pieces of raiment that had survived the firestorm came to aid. Mrrrhr... Yet... it had been fortuitous in the end that he in so many a garrison had been regarded as but a lesser-known highlord in plight, who sought for the quick safety of the innerlands. The less rumor, the less trouble and unwanted inquiries.
Ghrah, and now... So much to do, so much to do... He hardly kenned whence to begin. MRAAARH, those trice-damned rebels and all the other outlandish wossnames spinning about him, jesting, sneering... Eke, however could he e'en march into the heat of war thiswise, without a bleeding blade? Gh'alowazahrh had been his trusty companion ever since his foolish youth-tides, ne'er betraying him in speed and sharpness, drinking in greedily every fondle of the whetstone, so that it would fly through bone and sinew evermore as if... uh... well, cutting through some very soft object!
As he grumbled there under his breath, nails digging deep into the carven wood of the banister, a slave tiptoed to change the bucket. Had it not been for Gho-Ni'ngobsch's tipsy rumble calling from the hall behind, the poor innocent railing might have also needed a replacement.
"Oy, sir! Shouldna milor' be o' good cheer on dem fine hourtide, an' nay sulk dere in 'em cold gloom? Comes ye back hither; me an' 'em lads has brought summat dandy hither just fer ye!"
Khran-Av'ees slowly turned on his heels, casting a few sour glances into the dusk. Aye, mayhaps he ought to repose this one, single nighttide, and let all restless broodings sink into the maelstroms of oblivion for once-
"We gots 'em best o' dem best fer ye; grahahahah, aye verily! Sir'll be havin' dandytides such as he ne'er has kenned hitherto, grahahahahhuahhah." The veteran had been skulking by the curtained doorway, and now placed one arm around the warlord's shoulders.
"What be thissh... Lord Khran-Av'eessh hassht ne'er-" He felt a nasty squirm in the pit of his stomach, as the oldtimer, swaying slightly, pushed him through the feast-hall's smoke and racket towards the divan where he a moment agone had been inhaling on his waterpipe. Had they... they could not have...
Oh no... nononono...
"'Ere, she's dem bleedin' finest kin in dem whole innerlands; kens all dem funkymost tricksies, she does, aye v'rily, grahahahah. Any man-wight woul' sell 'is poor ole gramma to ge' e'en dem paltriest share of 'er sweet pleasures!"
As the duo reached the divan, it was as if a boulder, no, a whole mountain range had been dropped into the pit of Lord Khran-Av'ees's stomach. Gabbling together with Ghaagh'urih and the former decoy who had freed himself of the wig, half-mask, and fake fangs, a heavily tattooed woman lounged on the cushions reserved for him only, stretching her long legs. She wore perchance what together amounted to a very small candywrap's worth of canvas around the plump, well-endowed figure.
"Ach, 'tis sir hisself," Ghaagh'urih grinned. "Well, me deems Gobsch 'ere tole sir already 'em roots an' beginnings o'dem matters."
"What be thissh farrshe of... L-Lord Khran-Av'ees h-hassth nay sshuch yearningssh ofssh-" the warlord stuttered. He, as the über-supreme master of the dominion could have roared, blustered, and sworn the minions into the lowest brimstone abysses beyond the reign of Tghuonegh'err. But now, the words on his palate merely attempted to hide behind one another in growing panic, so that only some kind of gulpy gargle managed to escaped his throat.
The wench... er... Nay. One could nay clepe a woman of that age thuswise; she must have seen at least twenty-thousand winters. Well. Well. Urrmh. Well, the... eh... seductress was as gorgeous as one ever might with such a matured face and slight streaks of gray in the hair. Here however reclined something that age scarcely marred; rather it was the very opposite. Till the degree that the creature made even Khran-Av'ees's knees resemble those of the twittering tenderfoot at the inner wall.
Oh, he well kenned what this be all about. Occasions alike had come to pass a fair amount during his travels of late, yet he for aye had been able to squirm somehow out of them. Those of his officers he deemed as his friends appeared to have this twisted delusion that the grand Lord Khran-Av'ees absolutely had to be accompanied by some other bed-warmers than hot-water bottles. Fine, fine, some of the lasses had been quite pleasant to the eye, but mommy-deary had always warned against such filthy temptations of the flesh! What would she think if he let himself fall into such snares of desire and dark abysses of foul lasciviousness? The whole notion was beyond unbearable!
By the fireanvil and flametongs of Dthg'aar, this peril, now... It hardly took an experienced eye to discern that this elf was no shantytown's tavern-trollop spreading her legs for a few coins. She-
At that point, the woman finally turned her face towards his rather jaw-floored expression. When she spoke, the words emerged in the kind of throaty, husky notes that tended to flame up the loins of most men.
"Well, well... Be this the mightful Lord Khran, the wielder of Gh'alowazahrh, the most powerful blade beneath the hidden reign of Yl-maargh'Inegn, the bane of nations and wonder of all elvenkin? Hmmmh?" Languidly, she measured at him up and down. Just as tardily, with odd arching movements, she then rose up and pressed herself against the warlord's bare chest. The weakening of blood definitely had not gnawed at her stature, as the top of her head came up to Khran-Av'ees's chin.
"And what would my lord wish from khirjenlheim'autdyach Schul'ochmhahl? She can fill all thy deepmost desires, down to the ones thy grandness ne'er has hitherto kenned..." Her quick fingers curled some longer strands of his chest hair around them, and discovered even some further intrigues on their shady journeys.
"Oh. Oh my, my... The hearsay e'en from the southernmost reaches of thy grand rulership whispered that thou verily were as if ane of the giants of elderdays come back into flesh, akin to Ugkkgh the Thunderous or e'en Vghuorgengh'aatdj Ghiitdeeschz the Ten-Foot... Yet this, forsooth, makes those rumors but watered-down trifles of ole toothless gammers... Mmmmm..."
"Grrlmbffssh-" Eyes bulging slightly, the warlord was in danger of choking to his own saliva. That most awkward moment appeared to have deprived him even of the strength to force those wandering hands away. An oppressing, almost suffocating burning sensation was speedily spreading into every his vein and hollow, making the whole frame feel like a fossilized treetrunk on fire.
Ghaagh'urih et al around the divan cheered, raising their tankards and drinking horns. They clearly were pleased with Khran-Av'ees's reaction. Finally his nitpicky character seemed to have yielded to one of their little gifts, or so was the general assumption.
"Well, may sir ha' sum splennid times wi' ma'am Schul'ochmhahl, 'em best o' dem best, aye v'rily!"
"Verrahly! Aye! Ssh... shall we leave his high... nessh... hick to d-d-deeh..."
"Aye, our lord saveds us fro' 'em ghastly perils o' dem daimon o'em curst yonrealms, so may he has summat e'en ole Ugojh'umal inne his high halls woul' find heavenly! We'll pays fer it! An' pays twice an' a pittance more, if our lord thus wishes, may 'em blessings o'em elderkin rise up fro' 'em netherhalls to grace ye," Ghaagh'urih winked and quaffed the remaining half of his mead mostly over his shoulder.
And so, without the head of the nation having time for complaints, the more or less drunken knot of elves wandered off. Khran-Av'ees had ne'er required close bodyguarding in the mists of his own palace, so leave had been given for his usual followers to enjoy the homecoming as they wished. Heretofore he had relied on the self-spun aura of threat and awe -- not to mention his sheer size -- to keep intruders at bay. Feasibly on the bay of a lonely eastern-reach isle, if they swallowed all the fruits of his long-time bragging.
Now... they certainly would have had a body to guard.
"So... how shall ole Schul'ochmhahl be of service to thee? E'en a lord with such a glory shining upon his mighty brow must have... fantasies yet unfulfilled..." the woman exhaled against his cheek, having risen on the tips of her toes. Those soft fingers suffering from severe restlessness aided the matter nowise.
Arglegargle. This was all too much beginning to resemble that insufferable ordeal in this very hall with that Rouge-Passionblossom -- or whatever in the brim-gushing yonpits the harlot's name had been; they were all highte so damn alike -- some years agone. Yet this... It be akin to comparing a second-hand flyswatter with well-ripened wine. No baby-babble gushed from those lips; the seductress's every syllable had that halo of dominance that leered down at the highest of power-scepters. And those looks... well...
Every cell in Khran-Av'ees's hindbrain was whimpering "MOMMY!" in a weepy unison.
She pushed his unresisting form back onto the divan, sat on his lap, and laced her long legs together with his. "Mmmh? What would my lord wish at erst? What be those wistful longings of his inmost heart of hearts that ne'er have hitherto seen the light of the unseen sun?"
The perfumed, thick smoke, the din of bagpipes in his ears, and the moist heat of the woman's body were making his head spin. Right now the wistful longing of his inmost heart of hearts was to be a ten thousand miles forth hence, in a virginal wilderness that wiste nought of the fornications and lusts of men. Besides, he well could foresee the rigor of the near hereafter. First, she would be thrilled by the organ-play, oh aye, but when the time to lift the mask off would arrive, there would be such screaming as if Yl-maargh'Inegn had dropped the very welkin on her toes. These foolish good-for-naught airheads were all the same! Ne'er had there been an exception to the rule, so wherefore now?
"Shhrblfft... N... N-nay h-here... p-prithee..." he managed to croak after many a gulp.
"Ah, indeed. All this harsh coarseness, it nay be fit for the pleasure-night of the highmost of the elvenlords, now be it? The high billow-halls of bliss shall thence be woven from serenity and silence, wherein two can become one with merely the song of the upmost breezes as their mellow company... Now, my lord, shall we ask for thy handmaidens to bring us a trifle of treat, mayhaps a jug of fine incense to be burnt for thy splendor in a brazier...?"
More incomprehensibilities to Khran-Av'ees's burning ears. What bleeding handmaidens, may the venomsnakes of the Curst King-City eat the intestines of such utterly pointless flutterers? Lord Khran-Av'ees was no suckling babe on a wetnurse's breast in the need of dandling and pampering; he was able to take care of himself and most of all his own damn food!
However, now almost any pretence might do. Aught, aught, just to get away from this hellhole! And he... well... if his men thuswise beheld that the head of the dominion, battle-roughened and the slayer of many a nation, had ne'er erenow... Well, bleeding damnit, he scarcely wot whither to sheath the sword in the first place! And during his many a thousand-year, he had met too many of those insufferable cacklers who openly mocked the proud man-lores of the southlands. Those japing grins had of course turned into death-masks of terror before the wrath of Gh'alowazahrh, but it was perchance one reason why Khran-Av'ees had eventually introduced himself to the wonders of under-loincloth-wear.
"Grrbllh... urh... H-hither..." Tense all over, Khran-Av'ees sprung up from the cushions akin to a released spring, grabbed Schul'ochmhahl by the arm, and half-ran into the corridor leading into other parts of the palace.
And thence, it all went downhill. Brain whirling, he raced and raced onwards in a mad mixture of fear and half-suppressed urges, not harking a word of the woman's cajoling or perhaps protests. The almost never-ending passages of the mountain-palace twisted and turned before him, changing from the swept, torchlit spaces of the livelier quarters into dustier and less-cared-for vaults, where mortar had piled onto the floor and stones had fallen from the crumbling structures. He still clutched hard at the elf's arm, so that she was forced to keep pace with his long strides.
Then, finally, after an uncountable amount of further zigzags and darkness, something in his reason clicked back into place, even if the immediate effects remained scant. Through the thick buzz in his ears, his perturbed mind started distinguishing the occasional objection and feel the resisting tugs in his hand, as the woman fought back and slid on the occasionally slimy flagstones. He hardly kenned where he was, but in the gloom verging on total darkness he eventually let go of her arm, and sprung headlong into the blackness as if his loincloth had been infested by the shadow-daimon's gutfire. Which was indeed true in a figurative sense. Half-blindly, he staggered on, rushing upwards whenever he came across any staircases. The shouts and panting of the unwanted companion behind him died soon, swallowed by the mold and decay of tens of millennia.
Yet onward, onward Khran-Av'ees sped, stumbling a couple of times onto uneven flagstones or obstacles unknown in the ensuing pitch-blackness. Up, up, up... for somewhere therein lay his chambers, protected by more than simple locks. His chambers, whither none would enter without his leave, whither none kenned the forth...
At some point, however, his legs reeled to a slow halt. Not because of tiredness, but by the call of the re-awakening common senses. He had probably led himself astray into some yet unperused compartments of the palace. Light could be found nowhere, and the air in his nostrils stank heavily of mold. Cobwebs had been brushing at his face in copious amounts a while back, but here the vaults seemed surprisingly lifeless.
Perhaps he had plunged into some forgotten tomb that even the filthiest of parasites despised... Just perfect...
Breathing heavily, the warlord finally slumped down onto the cold, rough floor.
Bloody damnit and the festered, maggot-crawling legs of fimbulwinter's lame-men! WHAT had he just done? WHAT? The mighty Khran-Av'ees, running away from some loose-loined baggage as if she had been the second coming of the Bane itself! What... what the bloody hell was the matter with him? Urrgh, this... this could nay have come to pass, it was all so excruciatingly ludicrous...
In the gloom, he massaged at his temples, rushing under his breath through whole garners of the finest expletives of Schonda'Rha-baggoh. It... this... but mommy-deary had warned... and his face, his hideous face, no wight beneath the Dusk was supposed to behold it! Death to such insolent bastards who dared cast their mocking sneers upon his bane and shame! MRRAAARH! DEATH, DESTRUCTION, OBLIVION...
As his breathing and pulse gradually turned to normal, the whole toll of the recent hardships seemed to hit him on the head, so that it was left ringing and stuffed with the swirling, twirling ghosts of unpleasant memories and unsolved problems. Gha'ugonak, the emergence of the G'Uhageids, the daimon, the Bane, the fate of the dominion, the... the dreams... those dreams...
Ne'er had Khran-Av'ees gazed at aught alike in his nightly reveries. They made his skin crawl even as he briefly brooded upon them, and wake up shaking and drenched with cold sweat. They... they had wriggled forth erst on the hours of his sickness after the dreadful encounter in the woods. In the beginning, they had been chaotic, formless... rippling images of fire, sensations of marrow-gnawing coldness, rapid, yet muddled whispers on the edge of hearing. The warlord had at first blamed his tired mind and the nigh fatal overcharge of magic for those dreams. Yet during the pursuing dark-tides the visions had grown in shape, lengthened, the noises becoming even understandable on occasion... Nay, there was something else behind these, something hideous, unknown...
He shivered in the sepulchral dankness. The pleasant heat of the feast-hall seemed to exist in some other realm, eons and unknown distances apart. Here the sweat that had made the open vest cling to his skin seemed turning into sheer ice, making him tremble with something else than poorly stifled desire.
Ice... that was the very worst part. Those green-burning, lidless eyes staring at him through the thick, purple-blue slabs of ice. Every night, they beckoned at him more and more, the susurration at the edge of mind repeating his name within fragmented sentences. Once or twice they had highte him dhulepoekg -- son of fire -- and something akin to... a herald of the new reign of fire? And then the presence... The being who reached out to him through those shimmering walls felt like something raw, primordial, something out of the dawn of time... or as if it had dwelt in basal depths of the fifteen spheres of the worlds so foul that even the Immortals spat upon them.
The more he reflected upon this ominous shadow and its call, the colder the vault seemed, as if the ice of those abysses had been seeping through the crumpling stone, frosting the flags as it crept along...
Light... this hole needed light and anon!
His perturbed awareness found the filaments of magic, and a pulsating fire soon frolicked above the palms of his hands. As he had considered it only a while back, this was yet another quirky after-effect. Things that had required at least moderate concentration, say, three weeks agone, now could be summoned haphazardly out of thin air. This... be it verily the sudden overload of spellweaving and its lingering aura, or did this pertain to the daimon itself? Unto now, Khran-Av'ees certainly could see the connection between the nightmares and that... yonworld ghastliness.
Those green, lidless eyes, how they burned with that incessant fire and ne'er halted that piercing staring...
Urgh, and what be that iffy prickling sensation at the back of his neck that had been going on for a while? As if something had been observing at him e'en here, from a distance. Bah. That must have merely been some solitary spider, may the nether-flames of Tghuonegh'err consume that bloody bugger in its spying insolence!
The warlord took a slightly more comfortable position on the rough floor. So far he had not much bothered to observe at his surroundings, but he had unquestionably been leaning against some statue for a while. Outside the small ring of fire -- which might have indeed attracted the curiosity of a couple of bat-creatures -- the shadows danced in a surprisingly cavernous space, indicating a forgotten chamber or a parade passage. The age-gnawed legs of another stone-carven elf stood to his right.
Almost ironically amusing it be, how this situation bore kinship to the one whereafter he had stumbled upon the forgotten library. Tssth, by the firehammer of Dthg'aar, ought he to start running heedlessly away from lickerish wenches more oft, so that he would discover more of the unearthly secrets of the ancient palace?
Mrarh. There had to be better wherewith than such disgusting affairs! He would nay punish good ole Gobsch and his second bodyguard for this, though; obviously they had meant good. But however was he to explain them the abominableness of it all, when they swapped wenches akin to playing cards? Eh. Perchance he ought to remind them that... eeehrmhrhh... grah. Whatever.
Suddenly, a memory of last night's dream swam into his vision afresh, and he almost recoiled at the images of the green, round eyesockets burning in his retinas.
Urrgh... the two fireballs on the palm of his hand must have been playing insidious tricks on him. Dimming down the light a little, his attention remained on the flames. Fire... that daimon... the G'Uhageids... that was yet another tangled conundrum. For a wee while after the beast's attack, his understanding had grouped the kingsbuggerers as the Bane's allies. But the gaffer had been battling against the yonworldly hideousness, not the other way round-
The prickling sensation was there again, but now so apparent that it disrupted the flow of Khran-Av'ees's thoughts.
He raised his angry gaze into the shadow-obscured ceiling. "Whoever be thissh basshtard of brim-farthing pussh-daimonsssh that dareth to peep on Lord Khran-Av'eessshss- AIEHHEEH!"
In a fraction of a second, the warlord sprung onto his feet, twirling about. Heart hammering violently against his ribs, a sporadic lightning crackling on the tips of his fingers, he stared at the face in the darkness. Horribly life-like and almost perfectly preserved even after mayhaps a thousand times a thousand yeartides, the statue against which he had been leaning leered at him. The rippling shadows on the carven visage eerily animated the empty eyes and the half-amused, half-jesting grin.
Lord Khran-Av'ees had beholden this very being amidst the spirits summoned up from Tghuonegh'lchach, quite as horrifying as the daimon itself. No wonder the initial encounter had so startled him. It however was but a foolish statue of the foolishmost of the G'Uhageids, although... during that brief moment in the woods his form had been dreadful to gaze upon, so full of blazing wrath against the Bane's shadow-thrall.
Besides, Khran-Av'ees was definite the ghost had fixed his eyes on him even then, if merely for a split second. This... this however had to be a sole coincidence. He ought to start purging the palace of these moronic statues anyhow.
"What art thou shhneering at the mightful ssshon of Khran, o thee filthy idolizssher of fornicasshionssh and dirt? MRAARH?" he snarled, baring his fangs against the stone countenance of King Lhietd. The warlord yet anon closed his mouth, as he was answered by a complete absence of responses.
Mrrhrrh. Impertinent ole wanton, with even its disgusting likeness immortalized with such a lecherous expression. This... wait a moment... hrrhm... what, be this life-sized?
He frowned at the stone hands grasping the hilt of a humongous scimitar.
This be... well...There stood others of these, albeit more time-gnawn, around the halls. But funny that... funny how he ne'er before had espied this, this... resemblance, if a man might hight it thus. Most of the figures depicted Lhietd-Lhem'meeschz as an elderly man, but here the elf towered in the full power of his youth.
Khran-Av'ees paced a while around the statue, glaring at it up and down. Aye, they were well-nigh the same height and an even closer in outline. Lhietd had grown his fingernails similarly long and pointed, and there was something very alike in the shape of that face with its out-jutting cheekbones, huge square jaw, and long, thick fangs. The lopsided eyes matched poorly his slanted southlander contours, but the nose... His, well... Khran-Av'ees's own had not for aye been that rather shapeless protrusion, pummeled broken so many a tide it bore no semblance to its original shape. This, nevertheless... it... urmh.
He tapped at the stone with one finger, inspecting at the leering head from the distance of a few inches in the light of his magic. Aye, his ruined nose had once been quite alike. But...
Khran-Av'ees snarled aloud, gritting at his teeth. By the tumbling ashes of that debauchee's disgusting bastard-kin, wherefore was he concerned over fatuitous paltries such as some moronic king's looks? When he ought to have deliberated over more urgent matters, such as how to draw more information out of his prisoner? GRAH. Idioticstupidfoolishasinine-
In his irritation, the warlord almost collided with the second statue. "And what art thou to chsshallenge the glory of the sshon of Khran, ssho that thou thussh daressht idly ssshaunter on the way ofssh-"
Hrhmh. Well, being a statue, it obviously would refrain from answering. He lifted up the light, so that it licked at the rather more austere features of the second G'Uhageid. He had beholden also this one amid the ghosts, although no name could be placed upon the heavy, frowning brow. The male rose a good half a foot above Lhietd, and with his rough wanderer's raiment made quite a contrast beside the elegantly robed king. The only similarity in apparel were the bulky six-foot blades, decorated with about the same runes and motives.
Huh. Was not he, the stormcloud of the elvenland quite as splendid in power and stature as that lewd foulness? Wherefore could he nay add some glory of the elderdays into his scimitar, if he were so lamentably obliged to forge one anew? Nay five, but six it also should be, honed and burnished to destroy that filthy seed for forever from the plains of Rha-kan'Ocka! He would once emerge against the last of the G'Uhageids with a slay-blade fashioned after the yore-lore, and clean the maggot-infested wound in the land that were those ill filth of-
And, amid this gloating, yet another hammerblow of understanding smote his skull, so that his eyes almost popped from their sockets.
The shortest of the G'Uhageid sons, that... that... Aasg... Aasche... Aaschgh'rd... his face... his face... tha- tht...
In the throbbing, dancing shadows, the empty eyes of Lhietd seemed as if poring through Khran-Av'ees's blanched visage and into his very soul.
But this was but a... a... bloody statue! It could nay...
"Wherefore art thou thussh mocking me, o thee impudent ssheed-garner of rebelssh and filth? Thy bonesssh have been but gnawedth into gray motessh whichsh e'en the meanessht of gravewormssh sshnort down at-"
Then, the laughter began. Not echoing through the vault, but inside Khran-Av'ees's own head. As he fell onto his knees, desperately clutching at the sides of his skull, it merely grew in spite and volume. It was woven with uncanny harmonics and undertones, but absolutely worst was the rumbling, rasping major note carrying a dreadful likeness to his own voice.
"SHHTOP IT, SHHTOP!" he shrieked, somehow managing to stagger back onto his feet, even as the force of the horrible sensation attempted to push him back down. Swaying, tearing at his hair, he turned his back on the statues, and almost lunged at the before-spreading corridor where his own footprints lay in the thick dirt. Merely there, through some morsel of fleeting sense, he realized that both statues had been spotlessly clean, even when their seat lay in ruin and neglect.
Onward he rushed, still screaming, never turning about to glance whether the sly stone-face yet had that uncanny life of its own, ne'er fully explainable by the mere shifting of shadows...
Sometime later, a female figure tottered half-limping into the feast-hall, directing her course towards the divans of Gho-Ni'ngobsch, Hgyy'bbah, Ghaagh'urih, Kho'rbmhiel the decoy, and a smattering of other inner-ring officers. Cobwebs clung to her hair and jewelry, and her legs were gray with dirt almost unto the knees.
"By the thunder-anvil of Dthg'aar, ne'er have I beholden a more pathetic case in these long winter-tides of mine!" Schul'ochmhahl snorted, flopping down beside Ghaagh'urih whose face had considerably fallen during the lapsed few seconds.
"What be this... didna our lord ge' 'em hots e'en fer..."
"Oh, I could well behold his fast-awakening desires, but... Tssht, bleeding hellpits, the man be akin to some shy teenling peering for the erst time in his measly yeartides up at the flesh of a ripe woman." She shook her head, disentangling some sticky webstrings out of her heavy necklaces. "Oh, ole Schul'ochmhahl kens well howe'er ye prompted her of the tricksiness of this affair, forsooth... Nevertheless. Do ye weet whether your lord has ever e'en bedded a woman?"
"Um..." The men exchanged some dubious glances. "As 'em matters be, we donnae ken, v'rily..."
"Bu' shouldnae our lord, now, wha' wi' him bein' a ripe seventeen-thousand an' a half soon... Me means, he couldnae..."
"Ach, by 'em crab-plagued sea-halls o' Ahgtdoch'gruhtin, he verily be a wee li'l bitsy skittish aboot dem, well, ye kens dem outlandish southern wossnames an' howe'er dey cuts off dem wee piece o' skin sum daytides afta 'em birth..." Gho-Ni'ngobsch scratched at his chin. "Well, ye kens, ye does. But me reckons he canna be a... well..."
"Aye, aye, and 'is mug. Donnae ken whate'er burnt 'em other side well-nigh doon intae plain bone, but he ents likin' it ane bit. Me donnae deem he kens dat we kens 'em li'l secret o' his, but he ents clad in 'em wee li'l mask o' his when he's off wanderin' inne misty plains o' dreams. Anyane coul' sees 'im den-"
"But me reckons dat-"
"Ach, whatever," the woman sighed, "Do ye deem such silly trifles would have made me faint in shock akin to some barrel-grown hinterland lass hearin' a bad word for the erst time? Many a man has ole Schul'ochmhahl pleased beneath the yoke of the Dusk, wee and tall, slim and fleshy, e'en some sillybuggerer in my lass-days of yore who claimed to be of the old blood of the bygone kings. Hah. Splendid with his nimble hands, though; ane of the rare who has made ole Schul'ochmhahl forsooth squeal with delight... anyone have a pipe to lend?"
Ere anyone could fetch a thing, she filched one from the belt of Kho'rbmhiel and lit it from the brazier.
"Anyhow... I have beholden many a hardship and ill tide; there nay be much aught that would turn my knees into sheer water. Loins aching, sons and daughters have I brought into the grimness of the hidden light, sometimes straight from womb to tomb." The lines on her face deepened, as she frowned through the smoke at the indistinct shapes in the tapestries hanging on the rear wall. "Whate'er be there for a daughter of man to wail over any more, after she has laid down the cold remains of her ain flesh and blood into a freshly dug grave, wherein the worm already raises its head and sniffs at the air with hope gleaming in its blind eyes? Humpfh. The least of all some coy-boy's face."
Despite their drunkenness, the men had fallen silent at that. Of course, many had offsprings of their own, even if mostly grown-up and legitimate in even fewer cases. However, Hgyy'bbah for one had been known to take in a couple of his baseborn kiddies birthed by local play-wenches in the recent tides. And that kind of business truly thrived in Rha-ghi'Leh, what with all the best warriors ending up thither sooner or later. Nobbylords as they all were now, they furthermore had the coin to house slaves and nannies underneath their roofs. Hence it was not too cumbersome to foster a handful of wee elflings besides, as long as they did not follow their daddies to work. Not yet, at least.
"Ach, bleedin' dammit. Anyane ken wut we oughts ta do wi' our poor lord? Canna ha' him for aye porin' over dem bleedin' tricksy scrolls an' wossnames or trainin' his mightful battlemoves; dere bes more to life'n dat! Huh. In dem end, makes ye wonder aboot 'is..."
"Pssth, nought akin to that; ole Schul'ochmhahl could espy the heat well-nigh steaming from under his skin. Yet heed her words herein: take it with slowness and care with that lad, if ye e'er wish to behold him becoming a man ere his death-day. I reckon ye are being way too straightforward here, and that be also my mistake..." the woman muttered, beckoning at a passing thrall to bring her a drink or two to compensate for the disappointment. "Get him a... a slave lass of his own, or aught with whom he can do as he pleases on the high noons of his ain desires. Ole Schul'ochmhahl however shall not touch that boy ere he has leaned the basic of swordplay and proper courtesies. Oh, he might have his aptness on the battlefield, as ye have told unto me, but, honestly, that lad would need an orjghaaghtd'har merely for the sake of, oh, decency. Pardon me for uttering these blasphemies beyond treason, but I well-nigh pity him in his lamentable bewilderedness. Hah, he left me wandering around in some filthy passages whilst he himself ran away, too frightened to unleash aught proper out of the dread-locked garners of his heart! Pssth. Had it nay been for a few helpful laddies, I would still be heedlessly roaming that perilous maze of crumbling glories."
Grimacing, the men looked at one another. Ran away? The state of affairs be indeed worse than hitherto foreboded.
"Ach, by 'em bleedin' moonblood o' sum netherworldly wossnames, wha' in dem ninety hellpits oughts we to do wi'... Anyane e'en ken wut he migh' like?"
"Yeh. He saveds us fro' 'em bleedin' plight whe' he wuz all nigh sinkin' inne dem swamps o' grim-darkness hissel', didna he? We canna let such a bloody honorable wossname go unrewarded, cans we?"
"Urrmh... dunno, summat...fro' me ain lands? Donnae we all ken how 'em wenchies o' 'em hot sand-deserts bear 'em most splennid scrumptiousness o'em all, wi' deir soft skin akin ta 'em ripe dhummvha'dhukg an' long legs o'-"
"Shuts ye yer sozzled trap, Gobsch, ye shoul' ken dem southlanders canna be taken as 'em thralls or pleasure-slaves," someone yelled. "Didna he decrees 'em as his ain high-kin, an'..."
"Eh, verily thuswise. Nay taxing, nay slaving, and special gifts shall be yearly sent to villages beginning from the marshes of Kghuolongh'eva and south thence, unto the desert-lakes of Dhulip'atsch, if a kinsman might dwell e'en therein," Qwertyui coughed, joining the band with a horn of ale in one hand.
As was the custom, the scribe did not receive too many benign nods. His recent episode with the side-effects of fright had granted him the byname 'li'l stinker' from Gho-Ni'ngobsch, and it already had begun to spread. Schul'ochmhahl especially glared at the lowlander down the bridge of her nose as if he had been something buried for three weeks and then dug up. Qwertyui however set himself cross-legged on some cushions on the floor, and remained following the conversation.
"Bleedin' dammit, me just reckoneds he migh' find ane o' his ain kin dandier to cast 'is battle-weary gaze upon onne grim an' rainy e'enfalls dan..."
"Ain damn... kin? Hah... hick... D-dammit, he bleedin' hasss... 'em bleedin' ssh... skin o' a northman, aye v'rily, an' nay a bloody damn pittansshe o'em ssh... swarthiness o' south i' him. Howe'er be dat... hick hissh... ain bleedin' kin... sshplfft..." someone spluttered and a couple of seconds later collapsed halfway over his divan's edge, soon accompanied by loud snoring.
"Um. But he... uh... lord's fro' 'em south, ent he? I means, he says so an' all, doesnae he..."
"An' bloody damn well be, e'en if he nay be blest wi' as much bleedin' duskiness o' blood as me," Gho-Ni'ngobsch spat to the general direction of the z-peering officer, "Me's kenned him fer ages, me has, fro' dem tides when he still spakes 'em horrible heathen lingo o' his -- dat nay e'en dem savvymost o'em council-rings o' bleedin' Immortals wouldna ha' dem kennings o' -- an' couldnae summon up a damn word o' 'em Common Tongue. Ye ents larnin' dem outlandish gibberish o' suchkin inne northlands, ye v'rily ents."
"If I may point out that Schonda'Rha-baggoh lies to the east from-" Qwertyui began.
"By 'em bleedin' tusks o' Vhe-dt'echinech, nobody askeds fer yer wisecrakin', ye stinkin' li'l fork-tongued pipsqueak. We all kens whence dem lord's from!"
"Dat's cause o' yer bein' so damn pished ye canna hark back e'en yer ain bleedin' name!"
On the floor-level, the scribe's brows contracted, but he nonetheless remained on the cushions, sipping sullenly at his beverage. No matter how he tried, the members of the so-called inner ring tended to shun him. A part of the blame undoubtedly rested upon the warlord's propaganda. Despite him claiming that Qwertyui must have possessed an ounce of 'purer blood' in his veins due to his rare braininess, he was regarded as an inferior wight by most, save mayhaps Ghaagh'urih.
"Belike..." The addressed rubbed at his broken nose, frowning. "We oughts ta figure out summat... Mayhaps take a peek a' dem slave-markets o' Orjghtd'urkg. Summat well-hipped an' soft; dere be nay a man that woul' says nay ta pressin' his drowsy heid on a pair o' good breasts afta ane o'dem long an' hard toil-tides ye sumtides hasta suffer through. An' it be damn splennid to ha' a soft, warm wenchie to snuggle against on dem cold an' draughty nights 'ere. These buggerin' stone-halls wi' 'eir netherwordly chills ne'er be as homely as 'em goo' ole wooden sauna-cabin wi' a fire cracklin' inne dem stove. Ne'er won'ts and ne'er wills."
"Krhm... If I may lay a suggestion at your feet: mayhaps something exotic for the lord?" Qwertyui piped up, encouraged by the fact that the current speaker did not belong to those downright loathing him.
Even now however the veteran attempted to dismiss him, but grudgingly fell silent as Ghaagh'urih put up his hand.
The lowlander brushed some lank hair out of his eyes, coughing nervously, "If he... ahem, well, if lord has nay hitherto preferred the types ye have offered -- and nay offence meant here, verily -- then perchance something of a slightly different kin? I can tell that on occasion some quite fine specimen arrive on the very markets sir Ghaagh here mentioned: silver-haired lasses from the eastern isles afar who turn a man's inmost heart of hearts aflutter with their large, purple eyes... or, well... Mayhaps something from the far reaches of the uncharted westlands? Those tall, gold-eyed nighthuntresses with their entrancing songs and dances so wild e'en the frosted stones of Tghuonegh'lchach would turn boiling before such a bewitchment. Or..."
He frowned at his chipped fingernails with an air of doubt.
"I harked to this most outlandish rumor a wee while back, when we yet traveled through the unpaved roads of the lawless borderlands, ravaged by rain and mudslides... Nevertheless, this narration told of some merchant from... be it... eeh... alas, I cannot recall now. Anyhow... he bought himself this woman with her skin all... wrong. Ye must weet those ole gammers' tales of the imps of netherpits, pale and pink-fleshed, as if flayed alive but still living. Well, she... she was of this most outlandishly curious color, they said, yet the knife of a torturer had ne'er maimed her skin, so it forsooth must have been her own and not an impression made by the bared flesh. Ne'er could they tell whence she had crept upon the plains of Rha-kan'Ocka, but, well... The markets of Rha-ntd'Garmehe Orjghtd'urkg be enshrouded in mystery, indeed, and a man ne'er shall ken what lush marvels he might behold therein, beneath the concealed sun of the Dusk."
"Huh. Ane o'em quirky moments o' utter rareness when dem pipsqueak bleedin' has summat worthy o' reckonin' on dem slippery tongue o' his," Gho-Ni'ngobsch raised his brows in slight amazement. Qwertyui grinned almost manically, silently swallowing yet again the bitter-tasting offences. Oh, indeed, he would get his revenge on these arrogant bastards one day. One day...
"Hmmh. Does ye deems we shoul' send sum petty officer thither to keep an eye on dem markets an' just buys in if he sees 'em-"
"Nay, nay, let's nay be bleedin' hasty 'ere. 'Em v'rily needs sum more broodin' o'er..."