I was still staring. “You got Tultamaan as your messenger?”, I said out loud, and summarized the matter to Ythac.
“Regular couriers between here and Mhel are infrequent, and their rates are extravagant! There is rarely one available when you want one,” Xolgrohim explained.
“We haven’t particularly wanted to send many messages back. Arilash told Greshthanu’s parents that he had been killed, is the only one. Plus whatever Tultamaan wanted to say,” I said.
“Which, I believe, included a dramatization of your capture. Ah, and speaking of that regrettably brutal event, perhaps I shall return to my catalog of brutalities and menaces?” asked the lich-god. Neither of us stopped him. “Well, then, there are few other points of note. Observe the ventilation ducts there, and the servant’s entrance by which we provide food and cleaning services? They cannot, inherently, be as well-armored as the walls proper. Nonetheless they are well-defended, by means of mighty electrical currents. Behind them are no fewer than three deified hovens on guard, one of whom was once an enhanced agent of Trest. Even you might find them troublesome in battle.”
I opened my organs of theoception, and yes, the place was crawling with minor gods. “Why are you boasting about all of them? You’re just giving me that much of an easier time defeating them,” I asked. Which was a stupid question — I should have let him explain.
“Ah, but I hope that my precautions are never actually necessary. If they are tested, they may succeed, or they may fail; in either case it will be expensive and may well interfere with my ultimate wishes. If they are untested, they will not fail. I should prefer that you know enough not to make the attempt. Your immediate death would not serve me well.”
“My immediate death…?”
He smiled. “Well, one possible outcome is that Cterion and Uruunma remain too powerful for me to defeat, even with the tools currently at my disposal. I should be compelled, in that case, to inflict whatever injuries I could arrange, before they inevitably kill me again. Killing you holds no intrinsic pleasure for me, but killing you in front of their eyes would be a passable second choice. And, in case it is not clear, killing you before they arrive would be a distinctly inferior third choice, but still provide a form of revenge. So do not take my wish to preserve your life as too much of an encouragement to attempt to fight your way out of the Pit.”
«Time for me to be a bit crafty,» I wrote to Tarcuna. Out loud, I said, “So, either I can try to escape and your traps and gods might kill me, or I can stay and you probably will kill me.”
“I should judge the probabilities in the reverse,” he said. “My traps and gods will probably kill you. If you stay, I might kill you.”
“You underestimate both me and my parents!”
“Forgive me! I withdraw all measures of probability! In either case, it is possible but not certain that you will be killed.”
I spread my ears. “Well, then. Give me some extra reason to want to say!”
“Observe the caskets and armoires behind you,” Xolgrohim said with a wave. “The contain many treasures of Ghemelia…” He yelped as I breathed sparks at him.
I snarled. “Treasure-hunting is for drakes. I am a dragoness. This attempt to bribe me is an insult to my future husband!”
“I meant no offense! I am regrettably ignorant of draconic etiquette!”
I towered over the body my captor wore. “No, I want something else. Something that you alone can provide.”
Murghal flattened his ears in fear, but Xolgrohim, being far away, was not much impressed. “My resources are at your disposal, save for certain necessities — large of a martial nature — I wish to keep for my own purposes…”
“I haven’t felt anything since I was six years old,” I said. “I miss it, as much as you miss life itself. And your powers concern the sense of feeling.”
Xolgrohim dipped Murghal’s head. “With all due respect, my specialty is pain. I have a limited selection of spells for pleasure, but they are not my strongest.”
“Start with them!” I roared.
“Certainly,” he said, and concocted a gleaming clove-scented lump of (metaphorically) lace and crumbs on the astral plane and stretched out his hand to put it in my head. I reared my vô away to let him do it. It sat right in the chasm in my psyche where feeling ought to go.
“Is it in?” I asked.
“I have activated it. Do you feel anything? A sensation as of a thousand mhelvul lips kissing you everywhere, perhaps?”
“Not a thing,” I said. “Pity. You’ll have to try harder.”
He tried harder, indeed, did Xolgrohim. He chanted and wriggled Murghal’s fingers. He danced the most ominious jig that I could imagine a hoven dancing. He called for skull rattles and a necklace of bloodied feathers, and built a bonfire of wood and the bones of ancient kings. Astrally, he brought forth huge spiky things that stank astrally of asafoedita and terror, and I let him put them into me, too.
Finally one worked, at least a little. The forks of my tongue felt as if they had been dipped in fire.
There’s no describing it. Not the sensation itself, you can probably understand that unless you’re one of the pawful of dragons injured the way I am. You’re probably thinking, “Ow, pain.” But you are too used to pain, too used to feeling anything.
This was the best thing I had felt in five dozen years. (Yes, also the worst, but that didn’t matter.) It was all I could do not to roll around in happiness. Not pleasure, just happiness.