This is an ongoing tale, catch up on the previous installments here. ♦♦♦ “You may call me Ho Dhram,” the devil croaked as it led the disguised Orsog through the bare stone halls of its
This is an ongoing tale, catch up on the previous installments here.
“You may call me Ho Dhram,” the devil croaked as it led the disguised Orsog through the bare stone halls of its master’s castle. “I will show you what must be done in the larder. You have never been to Yinning Shan?”
“I have not,” Orsog said, his voice booming disquietingly in the silent hall.
“Our master works many wonders here. There is much to be gained if you serve him well.”
He did not reply. The bat-faced thing turned through a doorway, and he followed into the stifling heat of the kitchen. Something was burning in the oven as some other foul-smelling liquid bubbled in a cauldron over an open fire. They passed by a knife-scarred wooden table to a staircase descending from the opposite corner of the room. It was steep and narrow, and the darkness of the broad, cool room below was broken only by a single, flickering lamp. Orsog’s guide grinned hungrily at his discomfort.
“I see meat, grain, and vegetables,” Orsog said, “Wine and other liquors are in those racks. What is in the jars over there?”
“Ingredients,” the demon hissed. “You know of alchemy?”
“A little.” He suppressed a shudder at the thought of what those ingredients must be. He heard rumors of the alchemy of black magicians, and nothing they used was clean or wholesome.
“These are the lesser components of the master’s work. I will teach them to you, and you will learn how to clean their jars, and organize them, and to recognize when they spoil or run low and must be replaced. That will be your duty for now, besides the ordinary stocking of the larder.”
“Where does the master keep the greater ingredients?”
Ho Dhram’s glance was sharp.
“Who are you to ask such a question? Learn your place, or I will teach it to you.”
“I am sorry,” Orsog said. “I was told that the master used Pale Foxes in his workings and was curious.”
“Ah,” the thing hissed, turning an ordinary human syllable into something better fit for the pits of hell. “Rumor spreads fast, I see. Yes, the master has taken a virgin, a chieftain’s daughter. Her noble blood and fecundity will be transmuted into a pill of immortality.”
“Pill of immortality?”
“Indeed. He believes this pill will rid him of all bodily needs, save for sunlight and air.”
“He would kill a girl to gain this?”
At first Orsog thought the fiend was barking. As the barks turned to quiet hisses, he realized it was laughter.
“Of course! Would any sane creature not do the same to obtain eternal life on this earth and never taste death?”
Orsog felt rage rise within him at the thought. It was one thing to face men that raped and plundered but to face them when they could not die? To have their evil stain the earth for eternity?
He could not suffer it to pass.
“What sort of place did you think you had come to, little mortal?” Ho Dhram hissed, “Did you think this was the home of a kindly doctor? Did—”
Orsog brought his sword down on Ho Dhram’s wretched, batlike head, cracking it like an egg and splattering its brain all over the larder. The demon had been far too trusting. Orsog had drawn his sword from behind his cloak while the beast was yammering.
“Enough of this subterfuge,” the barbarian said. “It is time these lunatics tasted Asentic steel wielded by Rendic arms!”
He tore the cloak from his shoulders, the brooch clattering to the floor. The odd tunic in its eastern style came next. Orsog stood in boots and breeches, his bare chest covered in the woad markings of his people, and he bellowed a challenge for all the fortress to hear.
His cry echoed through the stone halls and unlit tunnels of the keep, rousing men to fear and other creatures to eager hunger.
Orsog noticed something strange at his feet. The blood issuing from the demon’s head had pooled and was gathering in a low, thick cloud that streamed toward the stairs. The warrior considered a moment, then grinned.
“Now this is a tale to tell of! Here I go, carrying wrath, with a devil’s blood to guide me!”
The streaming cloud became a long, thick cord, winding its way upward, and Orsog followed in a quick trot to keep up. It led him back through the kitchen and down a hall through rooms with strange tapestries and stacks of books, to a second flight of stairs. Two guards with spears stood at its feet.
Orsog growled at them in his native tongue, “Will you die for that hellspawn?”
There was no hesitation in the men’s faces. They ran forward, thrusting the iron points of their spears at him. He darted toward one soldier, letting his spear tip slip past his flank as he reached out and grabbed the shaft. The other’s attack he parried with his sword. He swept the blade back and down again before the man could recover, hacking away the spearhead.
The man whose spear he gripped was smarter than his companion. He dropped it to take up a long sword. If he struck at Orsog’s head, the barbarian’s rescue attempt would have ended there. Instead, he stabbed, perhaps thinking such an enormous man was lucky to dodge so quickly the first time. He was wrong, and the outlander slipped nimbly back, brandishing his new spear. Both men flinched backwards, then rallied and stood their ground.
“You have chosen a poor night to try my patience,” Orsog snarled, this time in San Dhi, the language they understood. “Leave now, and I will forget to hunt you down.”
The less intelligent man threw his decapitated spear, drew an axe, and rushed forward quickly in the wake of the broken shaft. Orsog knocked it aside, and the iron point of his own spear snickered out to open the man’s throat. The guard fell gurgling onto his side, landing at the feet of his companion. Taking one wide-eyed look at the dying man, the survivor ran down a side passage and was gone.
The barbarian stepped over the fresh corpse. The red mist had already passed up the stairs, twisting high into a tower. As Orsog followed, he prayed the way forward would be simple now that he had no guide. He soon saw that his wish was granted. No other halls or chambers branched off from the stairway. It simply wound up and opened into a broad, high-ceilinged chamber.
The sorcerer was waiting.
To Be Continued…
In the Devil in the Jars 4