“Well, Murghal neng Nhestravvath came back from the desert with a doomsome demon as an ally. He’s harnessed everyone in the city up with pain. If they don’t do exactly what he says, right prompt, they hurt so bad that they’d cut their throat with a hacksaw to make it feel better. I know that for a fact. Murghal made some of the Trestean soldiers do it in the grand square, my cousin says. He was terrible before, now he is a thousand times terrible.”
Llredh refurrowed the lentil-field with a foreclaw. ”My soldiers and my husband’s soldiers, that is who these soldiers that Murghal kills are! With Murghal, with Xolgrohim, there will be a reckoning and a night of fire! What hoven, what god, contends against me and endures? There is none! There can be none!”
“I go first,” I said. “Those soldiers were never yours; Murghal took them before you conquered Trest. Tarcuna was mine before that, even. So I have precedence.”
“I cede precedence!” roared Llredh. “But what of Murghal you do not destroy, that much is mine to destroy!”
“Especially if I get killed or captured,” I said.
Llredh breathed his assent as a column of flame, pouring miles into the sky, and most of the peasants fled. Ythac watched his husband. “Llredh, I was not sure until this very moment if they knew we were out here.”
“Bah! Drakes and dragonesses, we are these! The dead god should quail and cower before us!”
“The dead god is well-prepared, and intentionally tugged Jyothky’s tail to get her here. I don’t think he’ll be quailing or cowering very much,” said Ythac quietly.
“Then he knows we are here! Or if not for certain, than he acts as if we were!” roared Llredh. “The secrecy for sneaking and creeping around in private, we never had her!”
“Very comforting, Llredh. I’ll go round up our peasants again. Maybe they can tell us more,” I said, and did, which wasn’t so easy.
“Llredh is very angry at Murghal,” I said. “Llredh is the dragon who conquered Trest, too. I don’t think Murghal will be around much longer. ”
The peasants allowed as how that might be a good thing. “He won’t let us leave here, anyways, and he won’t pay for food for the city.”
“How does he keep you?”
“Cross the Bul Alen river and it hurts. Don’t bring food to the market, and it hurts,” said the peasant.
“Typical paingod approach to economics … The more you can tell us about what’s going on in there, the less we’ll have to wreck … and the less chance we’ll have of killing your cousin.”
Which uncalmed the peasant rather. “Why are you killing my cousin? Murghal is doing that already!”
“Is he alive or dead?” Ghemelian uses different verb forms for the two, and the cousin had been getting the living forms. Fortunately we didn’t need to talk about Xolgrohim much with the peasants; I don’t know what verb forms to use for the living dead.
“My cousin Khudris is big, my cousin Khudris is strong, my cousin Khudris is tough from farming and farming! So Murghal called him to the Pit of Despair Hospital two months ago and did a fearsome surgery upon him! Now loops of shining grey metal sprout out around his spine, spikes of metal from his shoulders, barbs pierce his cheeks, gemstones are his eyes, stained-glass lamps his ears!”
Ythac and Llredh and I looked at each other. “Really? Why on Hove would he do a thing like that? Did your cousin Khudris offend him and need to be tortured? — but that sounds like a very strange and difficult torture. A paingod must have easier, cheaper ones.”
“My cousin says that he has been made a god himself! I think he has been! He bought a thousandweight of beans and tomatoes. No cart brought he! He spread his arms and the beans and tomatoes floated over him, and he walked them thus into the tortured city!” said the peasant.
“Niobium Apotheosis Coils,” said Ythac.
“What?” said Llredh and I.
“It sounds like the technology that the mhelvul used to become gods, before our parents conquered Mhel,” said Ythac. “Of course Xolgrohim knows how to do it; he was one of those gods. It’s sort of like the Great Separation for us: a few mhelvul survived, but they gained a presence in the astral realm.”
“So I’m not facing one god in there. I’m facing … dozens? hundreds?”
“You had better go as soon as you can, Jyothky,” said Ythac, arching his head over to me.
I bopped him on the muzzle with my left ear. “You’re that eager to get rid of me?”
“I’m thinking that a new-made god isn’t going to be that skilled with his powers. How good were you a month or two after your Great Separation, after all?”
“Terrible. I was mostly throwing tantrums about not being able to feel anymore,” I said. “I didn’t want to learn magic.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you missed it,” said Ythac.
“Oh, I’ve been complaining about it constantly in my diary … Actually, Ythac, do me another favor?” I fished my diary — not including this entry — out, and gave it to him. “If I die, and anyone misses me, have them read this. It’s the diary.”
We embraced in the lane outside the lentil fields, while Llredh and some wondering peasants looked on. No, not that kind of embrace.
Just a farewell kind.