Monday, July 1, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Six


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 69,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1991. All rights reserved.

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The day I set out on the journey to rescue Ignatius Roundtower with the dwarf Nog Shortwhiskers and a man I had known for six years as Roy Stonerow was a turning point in my life. That day I forever left the quiet life as the stepson of a tavernkeeper behind and set out on an adventure that would consume the rest of my days. My life had changed, perhaps subtly at first and without much notice, but changed just as sure as Roy Stonerow had become Roystnof. What I remember most about that journey to Queensburg is the conversation I had with Nog about his gods and religion. For the first time I was introduced to a different philosophy of gods and their creations, and it was a philosophy I found all the other races held. Only humans denied the existence of the gods of the other races and I had been taught this was the only true vision of the universe. Nog disagreed, but he did not seem upset that the humans called his gods pagan. Dwarves have their own truth and humans have theirs, he told me, and neither could prove the other false.

+ + +

The day came three weeks after Brisbane had been taken captive on the banks of the Mystic River, when the first of June rolled around with the eternal persistence of the calendar. Brisbane had been a studious pupil of orkish religion and magic and, as such, he knew the part he would have to play in the ceremony, but he had hardly thought of his involvement in anything more than the most superficial terms. He knew what he was expected to do but he hadn’t dwelt upon the implications of such action.

The ceremony was, essentially, a simple one. There was a special chamber in the caves, reserved for this purpose only, where the sacrifice would take place. It was large, as all the important chambers seemed to be, but it had relatively few furnishings. It was roughly oval-shaped with two features at each of the oval’s foci. At one, a short, stout pedestal stood, like the one in the pug-trolang, again with a golden incense burner atop it. At the other, two slender columns of stone rose from the floor, placed several feet apart and each with manacled chains driven into their stone. The victim was to be hung there by these chains locking over their wrists and, after the Grumak had conjured up the clan’s Demosk—the clan’s representative of Gruumsh One-Eye—the victim would be sacrificed for their blood.

Brisbane knew all these things. Ternosh had taught them all to him over their weeks together and when the first of June arrived, Ternosh expected his pupil to be ready and able to do his part. Brisbane wasn’t so sure. Still unwilling to make a fuss in front of the Grumak, afraid he would betray some trust and reveal Gruumsh One-Eye had not really sent him here, Brisbane outwardly learned his lessons and memorized his part, but inwardly his guts rolled at the thought of what he had to do and his head spun in a dizzy delusion. Alone and frightened, he again turned to Angelika for reassurance.

Angelika? he called out mentally one night. I don’t think I can go through with it.

Brisbane, you must. If you quit now you will destroy yourself and everything we have worked for so far.

But Angelika, isn’t it evil?

If your heart is not in it, it is not evil. It is undesirable, but it is something you must do if we are to extract our full vengeance.

But the prisoners. They are defenseless. They are human.

We have been over this before. Grecolus has provided for them. He has secured their places in the heavens and he has sent you and me here to avenge their deaths. Be patient and be strong, young Brisbane. The Clan of the Red Eye will not defile the earth for much longer.

Will we make them pay?

Yes, Brisbane. Oh, yes. We will make them pay for all eternity.

When, Angelika? When will we make them pay? When will I have you back?

Soon, young Brisbane. Be patient and be strong. The day of vengeance will come. I promise you that.

This, then, is how Brisbane met the first day of June, jittery and unsure of what he might have to do, but trusting enough to believe things would turn out all right in the end. The ceremony was to take place first thing in the morning and when Smurch roused him an hour before dawn, Brisbane quietly got dressed in his red and white robes and the small red hat Ternosh had told him to wear, and made his way to the instruction chamber to meet the Grumak.

Ternosh was there, awaiting his arrival and dressed in red robes and a cap similar to the one Brisbane wore. Wordlessly, he led Brisbane from the room and down a series of tunnels to the sacrificial chamber. Along the way, Brisbane tried to mentally prepare himself for the ordeal ahead, tried to put a wall around his feelings and sensitivities to protect them from the onslaught of horror they were surely about to receive.

When they arrived at the chamber, its torches brightly burning around the oval perimeter, Brisbane could see all the members of the klatru assembled in a rough and disjointed circle around the two objects in the center of the room. They stood at attention, as if in a military formation, and their unblinking eyes twinkled cruelly behind their pig noses. Hanging limp in the chains between the two stone columns was the nude and freshly washed body of the prisoner named Amanda. She was conscious and gagged, but her head hung forward in helpless surrender, her brown hair falling down to cover her face.

When Brisbane saw her hanging there, he almost lost all his nerve and broke down screaming on the spot. It was too much, too much, too much. Did it have to be her? There were three prisoners. Why did it have to be her? He kept walking, following Ternosh into the room, but his knees became weaker and weaker with every step. Just when he thought his next step would collapse under his weight, Angelika’s voice cut into his mind and hardened the jelly his muscles had become.

Strength, Brisbane. You can survive this. You must.

Angelika! Brisbane almost cried aloud. You will help me through this?

I will. This must be done.

Her presence filled Brisbane with a strange kind of resolve. Suddenly, he was determined to see this thing through to the end. Angelika was right, of course. How could he not have seen it before? He had to do this. If he balked, he would prove himself false to the orks and they would kill him for the symbol he wore. He did not want Amanda to die, but if she did not, he would never wield Angelika in combat again.

Brisbane took his position on the side of the pedestal as he had been taught to do. Ternosh stood on the other side, the golden incense burner sitting between them. The Grumak began to speak in orkish. Brisbane’s knowledge of the language had grown in three weeks, but it was still far from perfect. However, Ternosh had taught him what the ceremony words meant and he found he was able to understand them.

“With the blessing of Gruumsh One-Eye,” the Grumak said, “the klatru of the Clan of the Red Eye has once again gathered to pay rightful tribute to our master.”

“Glory and fame to Gruumsh One-Eye,” Brisbane chanted with the other orks in their native tongue.

“The sacrifice we offer today is the lifeblood of his enemy. May this not be the last.”

Again, the chant rang out. “Glory and fame to Gruumsh One-Eye.”

They’re serious about this, aren’t they, Angelika?

Yes. Their evil knows no bounds. The worship of false gods is forbidden.

Ternosh lifted the lid from the incense burner beside him and lit the fine red powder with a magic spark from one of his fingers. He replaced the cover as the thick white smoke began to smolder off the incense.

“I will now call up the Demosk that watches over the Clan of the Red Eye, the one called Ollikan, so he may witness our sacrifices to our master.”

“Glory and fame to Gruumsh One-Eye.”

The Grumak began his strange incantation to summon the Demosk from the battlefield of forever. Brisbane listened to the words and sounds Ternosh said, trying to make some sort of sense out of them. Over the past three weeks, he had been a student of Ternosh’s magic, learning its forms and its sources, but as yet, he had been unable to truly comprehend it.

It was strange. Ternosh’s magic did so many things in the clan—it kept the torches lit and unsmoking, for example, and it kept the water in the bath chamber warm and pure—so it obviously worked quite well for the Grumak. It was even responsible for the secret doors Vrak had taken Brisbane through in the Crimson Mountains. Ternosh had created them with his magic and set them to open whenever anyone said the word ursh-low, an orkish command to open, in their vicinity. But Brisbane had been unable to make the magic perform for him. It was a different style of magic, but the problem was somehow more than that. Brisbane was nowhere near proficient enough to work a complicated spell like the one used to conjure up the Demosk, but Ternosh felt he should be able to do the simple ones, like the one for starting fires, but so far there had been no success. Ternosh would watch Brisbane carefully, making sure he made the exact hand motions and pronounced the chants properly with the right pitches and inflections, and still nothing would result. It was very frustrating, for both Brisbane and Ternosh. It eventually reached the point where the Grumak became suspicious of whether or not Brisbane could really work magic at all, regardless of what the Demosk had said about his blood, and Brisbane had to resort to one of the cantrips Roystnof had taught him, conjuring up a small dragonfly, to prove he had the right to wear the pentacle medallion.

Now, looking at the pentacle carved into the stone on which the incense burner sat, Brisbane could not help but wonder what he had been doing wrong, why Ternosh could cast the orkish spells but he could not. Maybe it was physiological. The force of magic inside humans could be different from the one inside orks, and each could require different practices to call it forth. Perhaps the orkish chants he had painstakingly learned could not harness the human force inside him. That would mean Ternosh would not be able to cast the spells Brisbane had already learned. It warranted looking into.

The incense smoke was beginning to fill the chamber and it was getting hard for Brisbane to think clearly. He could hear the circle of klatru orks chanting in long, low tones, and he quickly remembered he was supposed to be doing the same. He joined the chorus at a pause for breath and continued to breathe in the smoke coming from the vents in the burner. Standing right next to it like he was, the effect on him was worse than it had been before, and he had to place a steadying hand on the pedestal to keep himself from swooning.

Through orange-scented smoke and watering eyes, Brisbane chanted and watched the body hanging in the chains before him. Amanda had raised her head and was looking around at her strange surroundings with eyes wide in fear and amazement. The strong scent of the smoke stung tartly at the inside of Brisbane’s nostrils as his eyes stared fixedly at the woman’s breasts while the rest of the world seemed to swim around them.

Beautiful, Brisbane thought absently, almost as if someone else thought it for him. They’re beautiful.

His eyes worked their way down her body, over her flat stomach to the patch of her brown pubic hair and down the slender muscles of her legs.

She’s lovely, Brisbane thought, the ideas forming themselves into words with difficulty. Her skin is so healthy and alive. How many other women are walking around with bodies like this hidden under their clothes? It’s wrong. How can they stand to hide such beauty away?

A light winked on next to Brisbane and interrupted his drug-affected thoughts. He started his head turning to see what the light could be and, seemingly hours later, after the muscles and tendons in his neck had creaked and strained under the labor of pivoting his head, he could see the Demosk had arrived and the light came from the eyeless apparition’s head and torso.

Angelika, I’m going to pass out. There’s too much smoke.

Remain strong, Brisbane. It will soon be over.

Brisbane felt like his feet had begun to float off the floor. Suddenly, pushing Angelika aside for the moment, the voice of the Demosk hammered its way into his brain.

“Grumak Ternosh, you have summoned me from the battlefield of Gruumsh One-Eye for what purpose?”

Again, the words in Brisbane’s ears were orkish but the ones in his head were in his own language.

“The time has come,” Ternosh said to the room more than to the Demosk, “for our monthly sacrifice to our master.”

“Glory and fame to Gruumsh One-Eye.” This time Brisbane forgot to add his voice to the chant.

“His eye is open,” the Demosk said. “Proceed.”

Now, Brisbane.

With a start, Brisbane moved forward as he was expected to do. His head cleared a little as he moved away from the pedestal, but it was still as if he was walking in a dream. He walked slowly around and behind the body of Amanda and did the only action Ternosh required him to do in the ceremony. He reached up and, grabbing a handful of her brown hair, pulled Amanda’s head back, exposing her neck to the Grumak who now stood directly in front of her.

It’s not that hard, Angelika. It is really such a small and easy thing to do.

It must be done, young Brisbane. Her death will be like an iron shield. It will protect us until we can strike back. Vengeance shall be ours.

Yes. Yes. Vengeance. We will make them pay for this.

Ternosh produced a pair of sharp daggers from the belts of his robe. He turned to face the Demosk as the congregated orks stopped their chanting and the Grumak held the knives high above his head.

“Behold!” the Grumak said, his voice rising above the smoke in the chamber. “The blood of the enemy will now be spilled upon our cavern floor.”

“Glory and fame to Gruumsh One-Eye.”

Ternosh whirled on Amanda and in two quick swipes, cut the daggers deep into each side of her neck, opening up dozens of major arteries and making the woman screech into her gag.

Brisbane released her hair and backed two or three steps away from her. In the smoky light he watched as twin rivers of her blood, almost black against the paleness of her skin, began to run down her naked body. The ichor spilled onto her shoulders, forked in half, and streaked down her front and back in streams that turned and split at every curve and swelling of flesh until it dripped from the tips of her toes like a leaky beer tap. The sight sickened and excited Brisbane at the same time and, as he watched the blood slide down her back and over the curves of her buttocks, he suddenly wondered, with a series of heart palpitations, what she must look like from the front, with her blood pouring down and around her breasts.

Angelika, what’s going on? Why do I feel so strange?

It is the smoke. The evil vapor is affecting you. The feeling will pass.

The circle of orks stood silently as all eyes watched the woman twist and jerk in her bonds, writhing in pain and desperation. Her blood was pooling up beneath her in a small concavity in the rock that was evidently meant for that purpose. Brisbane was surprised to see just how much blood was collecting there, but was even more surprised to see that he could see Amanda’s reflection in the surface of the pool, an unusual and intensely erotic view from below, with foreshortened legs, the cleft at her crotch, and the undersides of her breasts. These surprises did little to shock him out of his stupor. Time stretched out, and it seemed at one point as if he had been watching Amanda die for his entire life. Brisbane’s head began to throb and hurt and his nose seemed cracked open and dried to a crispy mess with the pungent treatment it had received. Tears ran freely down his face from his red eyes and his brain was swimming in a pool of nausea.

Eventually, it was finished. Amanda slowly stopped thrashing about as she bled to death, until she just hung from her chains like a side of beef in an ice house. When the life had finally flown from her, the silence in the chamber was broken by the voice of the Demosk.

“It is done. Gruumsh One-Eye thanks the Clan of the Red Eye for their offering and pledges another month of wealth and well-being.”

“Glory and fame to Gruumsh One-Eye.”

With that final chant, the figure of the Demosk vanished from the chamber and the smoke that made up its body stopped pouring out of the vents and began to quickly dissipate from the chamber. The black-clad orks, Tornestor in the lead with his two faithful followers in the red stripes, began to file out of the room.

Brisbane started to come back to himself. More so than ever before, the vanishing of the incense smoke left him feeling decidedly ill and weak in the knees. With the sickness came the rational judgment of what he had just done, what he had just taken part in. He looked up at Amanda’s body and all the tremors of excitement he had felt for her beauty were gone. What he saw now was ugly, uglier than anything he had ever seen before. What he saw was death, yes, but it was a death for no good reason. A messy, torturous death in service to a god that did not exist.

Never again, Angelika. I will not let this happen again.

I promise you, young Brisbane, it will not. Together we will put an end to such perversion. Our vengeance will be complete and eternal.


Brisbane saw Ternosh appear from behind one of the pillars that supported Amanda’s naked body. For a moment, he was filled with such hate at the Grumak and his entire miserable race that he almost leapt at the ork in savage fury, intent on ripping his heart out of his chest. But the moment passed, and it was quickly replaced by feelings of nausea and a pounding headache. The fight left Brisbane as quickly as it had come and now he only wanted to lay down.

“Brisbane, are you all right?”

Brisbane staggered forward and leaned heavily against one of the stone columns. He nearly stepped in the pool of Amanda’s blood, already crusting over with a thin film.

“Yes,” Brisbane said wearily. “It’s just all that smoke. It makes me woozy.”

Ternosh seemed upset by this news. “You have said this before. I do not know why it should affect you so. None of us grugan experience any distress.”

Brisbane did not care about any of this. “If you don’t mind, Ternosh, I think I’ll go lay down in my chamber for a while.”

“Of course,” the Grumak said. “Would you like me to help you?”

Brisbane waved him off and slowly began to move away from the pillar. Before he had gone three steps, his head spinning like a top, he lost his balance and collapsed to his knees.

“Brisbane!” Ternosh cried out in shock and he went over to him to prevent him from toppling over. “I had no idea the smoke would affect you so. You weren’t this weak in the pug-trolang.”

Brisbane closed his eyes and tried to will the floor to remain level. “Too much,” he mumbled. “I was too close to that damn burner.”

“Come on,” Ternosh said. “Let’s get you to your chamber.”

As the Grumak was helping his Grum rise to his feet, Brisbane lost consciousness.

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