A new story, using a title taken from Chuck Wendig’s recent blog challenge. I am grateful to Rick Sherman for coming up with such an inspiring title.
~ ~ ~
Since the time my first memory coalesced like a planetoid forming, the cartilage temple had been my sanctuary. Passing through its gristled gates and hyaline arches, the Scenoids beckoned with their siren song. There, they would give me succour from their sarcous mammaries, the ambrosial milk suckled voraciously until satiation was reached.
They gave of their milk freely, but it wasn’t until my initiation that they gave me their blood to imbibe.
There was a cost, but it was not mine to bear. In this respect, selfishness was my master, but there would come a time when it was my turn to make sacrifice. The Drenethald assured me of this.
The future is an unfathomable thing for an initiate, the only certainty being that a role— some say an ordinance— would be assigned to me. The purpose of this destiny? Along with a billion others of my kind, to foment the great act of Uncreation; that antipathetic state constructed from labyrinthine complexities known as works of power. There could be no higher honour.
“Armathenon.” The voice that uttered my name was enticing, yet had authority. Ever since my ascent to the dominions, the Drenethald had warned me not to trust these voices.
“Do not let them deflect you from your true course,” they would say. But this call from beyond promised something unique. Something that had remained an aching desire during the aeons of my traversal through the realms. For such a reward, I would risk all.
So it was, that when the gateway in the thirty third dominion opened, I slipped through.
The agony of dematerialisation and transposition was normal. The circumstances of my emergence were not. Instead of an entrance befitting a Lord of Chaos, I found myself bound by crimson bands of entrapment. I writhed in their grip, but each second spent struggling drew the bands tighter. The one binding my neck barely allowed me to draw breath, my tormented roar cut short by its constriction.
I had been played like a fool.
“Armathenon,” the figure below said. “Do not fight me. You are strong, but the crimson bonds are stronger. They use your own power against you.”
It was a human voice. This, together with the overpowering stench of a poisoned world confirmed that I had been summoned to the third stone from Sol.
She stepped forward, a minute anthropoid before my giant form. I was aware that I stood naked and monstrous in the candle light. Her skin was wan and grotesquely smooth, stretched over a flimsy skeleton. The urge to crush her like a bug was overwhelming, but I resisted. My bonds made the desire a futile one, but how I raged within.
“You believe yourself to have been deceived, but I tell you, great Armathenon that your reward is here.” She turned her hornless head to the side casually, my eyes following the direction. Fire ignited in the molten crucible of my heart as I saw a magnificent body chained to the wall.
“A Scenoid,” I said.
“Look more closely. It is the same who suckled you at the birth of time.”
It was true. I recognised the unique anatomy, tasted the sweet pungency diffusing from its glands. The human had indeed laid an elaborate trap.
“You yearn for its milk and blood, don’t you Lord of Chaos? How long is it since you partook of its sacred fluids?”
An involuntary pining noise escaped my constricted throat, my phallus rising in exquisite anticipation. The Enchantress, little more than a girl, had subdued me. As if to accentuate the point, she approached the Scenoid and lifted a bloody organ from the bowl perched on her altar. It looked like a beast’s liver— umber, raw and dripping. She extended both hands, and the closest thing I knew to a mother leaned forward, taking it from her. The Scenoid lifted its head backwards and the flesh disappeared down its gullet, causing its wasp-thin torso to bulge with engorgement.
“You know what I can offer you,” the human said. “Do you want to hear what I require?”
“I should like to know with whom I am -” My voice was cut short by the tightness of the bond round my throat, and I gagged. “ … whom I am dealing,” The words came out ragged.
She laughed. A condescending, sneering sound. “You think you can entrap me with such a simple ruse? No, Armathenon. You shall never know my name, but at least I will allow you the dignity to speak.”
She waved her five-membered hand and my neck bond loosened a talons-length.
I inhaled deeply of the smoke-filled air and grunted in satisfaction.
“Your effigies do not do you justice,” she said after a time. “Never have I beheld such intricate horns on a denizen of the realms – and I have seen many.”
It was a boast of sorts. Yet I knew from the manner of my summoning, and the way she carried herself, that she was no novice.
“You said you wished to parley?” I said. Viscous balls of mucus dripped from my jaws making my standing in this deal quite obvious. The prospect of my Scenoid’s fluid was a motivation undreamt of. She knew this.
She smiled again. “I have a rival. His power may well be equal to mine. If not, it very soon will be.
“You want him dead?”
“Yes. But he deserves a quick end. I would also have him know why he has to die.”
“It is a simple thing to do,” I said, closing my third eye, trying to detect subterfuge. I found none.
“Not so simple,” she replied. “Otherwise, I would have executed him myself. He has protection.”
The subtle shift of expectation was unsettling. “Who?”
“You know of the Sathanos?”
My tailpounded on the stone floor. “There are but two. One of the original three was banished for insurrection in the first dominion.”
“Basquieth has returned. I’m surprised you did not know this.”
I should have been told by the hierarchy. My ignorance put me at a disadvantage again. But I let it pass. “Not so easy, then.”
“The challenge is too difficult?”
“I did not say that!” She knew of my pride, the upper hand remained hers.
She dipped her hand into the bowl again and lifted a mass of entrails. The Scenoid mewled with longing. They were eaten with even greater speed than the liver.
The enticement was unbearable. “It shall be done,” I said. Then, looking down at the crimson bands; “However, I am restricted.”
“Give me your oath.”
“I … swear it.” She had me. A Lord of Chaos cannot break its promise.
The sorcerous bands uncoiled like serpents and fragmented into motes of dust.
“Where is your adversary located?” I asked.
“In the star’s abode.”
The name meant nothing to me. “I will need an hour.”
“You have thirty minutes, if that. Naefeus already senses a disquiet in the ether.
I nodded, looked upward, smelled the air and dematerialised.
The journey across the realms was excruciating in its demand. The haste required for the Enchantress’ task demanded it. I emerged, disoriented in the entranceway to the warlock’s abode on the black side of a great mountain. Shattered scree and dismal-grey boulders littered the slope below while a hurricane gale blew swarming welts of rain horizontally into the cave mouth. I didn’t feel the icy darts of precipitation as they ricocheted off my hide, but an unfamiliar shard of negativity twisted in my gut.
This was to be the most formidable of battles— and my strength was at a low ebb already. I hoped that surprise was still on my side; it was my only superiority.
I invoked concealment and stepped through the black maw ahead, sensing the cavern sides humming with unhallowed energy— I would not be permitted to penetrate directly through the walls.
Millennia of existence had given time for my stature and presence to increase to an extreme magnitude— this was not an advantage. I needed stealth. If I could not steal myself in, then I would have to rely on force. I sensed a powerful presence up ahead, brooding in the bowels of the mountain. I summoned what potency I had left and launched myself down a fissure.
Down and yet further down I fell until, smashing like a meteor through the ceiling of a vaulted chamber, I landed in Naefeus’ inner sanctum, an avalanche of rock accompanying the terror of my entrance.
Naefeus was on the floor, spread-eagled, his face aghast. Basquieth was nowhere to be seen. But a flicker in the mage’s eyes gave me warning— it was insufficient.
The weight of a planetoid fell on my back, crushing me to the ground. Arms like oak trunks wrapped around my neck and locked tight. Basquieth was upon me.
He was relying on a test of strength, that was obvious. I was gargantuan in size, yet he was greater, older.
This strategy gave away his weakness. I knew it instinctively. My elemental power was the greater, having learned from the great principalities of Cheal. As his arms tightened I probed with my consciousness. The image of a fragile mirror appeared, indistinct and shimmering. I understood that my strength was fading to a candle glow with each passing second.
Basquieth wrestled my body, throwing it against the cavern wall and bringing down another rain of stone blocks. Reaching through the debris, his fist grasped one of my horns and with the force of a maelstrom, wrenched the thing free from its root.
Pain as I had never known, wracked me as life-blood gushed from the open wound in my head.
Basquieth anticipated victory and raised himself to full height. His roar of triumph blasted the cavern and were heard across the mountain range. Storytellers wrote of this night with shaking quills as they recalled the moment of Basquieth’s final arrogance— and ensuing doom.
A pinprick of light remained in my astral vision; but through it, I could see the mirror. It was all I needed. Bracing myself for one final outrush of power, I invoked the elements and shot a bolt of dark energy at the mirror of Basquieth’s essence.
I saw it smash into a billion fragments, then all was black.
I slept a syncopic slumber. It could have been an hour; it could have been one hundred years. Both timespans are an eyelids blink to me. When I awoke, it was as a rebirth; thrust into an austere world, cold and unyielding. I drew breath and immediately felt her nearness— the Scenoid. I rooted reflexively and found her nipple, sucking hard, desperately. The ecstasy was unimaginable.
“You like your reward?” It was the Enchantress.
“Leave us,” I said.
She receded, respecting my desire to feed, and to receive solace.
A time later, I rose, satiated and in full vigour. I felt unbalanced, and swept a claw over my damaged head. The horn was regrowing. By its length I understood the passage of time to be decades rather than centuries.
I found the Enchantress in her sanctum. Time had treated her well, in fact, she looked as if the years had been subtracted rather than added.
“You have grown in strength,” I said.
She turned to me, a slow, secret smile on her face. “I am transcendent. You served my purpose well, Overlord— exceeding even my own expectations.”
“I failed you.”
“It is true— you did not extinguish Naefeus’ life. I originally considered him too dangerous to live, but when my acolytes recovered his drained body, I resolved upon another purpose. With Basquieth destroyed, he was laid bare, and his power available to be stripped and absorbed.”
I followed her gaze to a suspended cage. Within it, blackened and twisted, half-melded with the coarse wire was the writhing form of the mage. He was little more than a skeleton.
Seeming to sense me, he lifted his head. “Let me die.”
It was less an act of defiance, more one of inevitability, but I reached out a claw and touched him through the mesh.
The Enchantress saw what I was doing too late. “Don’t—”
Nevis body turned to powder before her eyes, a draft of air, scattering the particles until nothing remained.
“You are a fool,” she raged. “How dare you show him pity. My advancement will be slowed.”
“Expediency, not pity,” I replied. “It is not profitable that a mortal tip the scales of influence so.”
“I could have been supreme!”
“And may yet be so. The time is not propitious, however. The goal of uncreation takes precedence and your rise at this juncture would be an obstacle.”
I allowed myself a look of amusement. “Ironically, I have saved you. Those more powerful than I would have dealt with you more severely if I had not taken away the source of your power.
She fumed, but held herself in. The impotent can also be wise.
“I have known loss today,” she said. “But you have lost more.”
A sharp gesture of dismissal with her hand preceded the desolate shriek of the Scenoid.
I uttered a roar of despair, burying my fist into the wall, scattering her artefacts and vials across the room. I tore down vast bookshelves that held her grimoires and laid waste to her sanctum.
Finally, I was spent. The Enchantress stood, unperturbed and mocking. “You are not the only one to tip the scales of justice,” she said.
I looked at her with eyes as hot as coals, but she knew my oath kept her safe from vengeance. The fulfilment of my charge also freed me of further obligation. I ascended from the room, breaking through the rafters and destroying the last vestiges of her habitation.
I ruminate often of my loss. The Enchantress and I will meet again. Of that I am sure. The Drenethald warned me of sacrifice. I sometimes wish it was my own existence that had been snuffed out. That blessing will only come on the day of Uncreation.
May it come soon.
~ ~ ~