Precautions: Helicopters equipped with anti-electronics gear; personnel wearing gas masks. Monitoring by telemetry with one or two correspondants giving running commentary in each copter. Results: Immediately on entering Mystery Zone, all correspondants mentioned burning sensations on the neck and shoulders. Several mentioned hearing voices saying, “The pain will increase until you surrender to Murghal Nhestravvath.” No such voices heard by telemetry. All reported rapid increase of pain. Nonverbal expressions of agony in audio telemetry. Copters attempted to turn around and flee. All ceased radio contact before they could reach edge of Mystery Zone.
Guardsman Monos on copter 4 started to report, saying “We have surrendered and” Follows only protracted screaming for over an hour. A voice tentatively believed to be Murghal’s says, “You were told to disobey all Trestean orders. You dared to defy us and continue to report. You will now die in pain.” Screaming intensifies for two minutes, then ends in gurgling. Presumed-Murghal speaks directly into microphone: “The Trestean army in Ghemel has surrendered and is now part of our loyal guard. They will stay and serve us forever. If you send anyone else in, we will conquer them just as easily. Do not think to meddle with us and our supreme new ally.” Then a pistol shot ends telemetry.
That was plenty to confirm the obvious. “OK, what you’ve got there sounds like Xolgrohim. He’s a paingod from Mhel. My parents killed him a while back. Osoth put his spirit in a bottle and was going to compel him to find treasure, but we got a bit distracted and didn’t get around to it before we came to Hove. Xolgrohim was pretty friendly with Murghal — oh, I don’t know if you know, we picked the best cave in the the Khamrou Vorescs, and so did Murghal, so he was there before us and we enslaved him. Anyways, it sounds like, after we left, the two of them made an alliance and snatched Ghemel back from you.”
Markosh frowned. “So, Murghal and this paingod …”
“Zolgroan” (Three tries later) “Xolgrohim, they’re your servants? Is this another front in your war against Trest?”
“No, nothing like that. Murghal is an escaped slave, we should kill him but probably won’t bother because we didn’t want him in the first place. Xolgrohim was pretty friendly to me, good with romantic advice for an undead paingod, so I’m not quite sure what I should do about him. I think he’s just working for Murghal though. It was either that or sit in a cave for duodecades, since the rest of us abandoned him.”
“So you deny all responsibility for the Mystery Zone in Ghemel?” said Markosh.
“Oh, we’re sort of responsible. We should have cleaned up our dead god. We would have done, but we got distracted by you killing my fiancé. It’s a case of littering that got out of hand.”
“What can we do about the situation?” he asked.
“I have no idea. Hovens don’t seem to have the least bit of resistance to magic, so you can’t get close to him. Of course you can’t have any long-range ray guns anymore. We could get rid of him, but you certainly shouldn’t expect any favors from us. So you can either come up with a tremendously clever bit of technology, or stay out of Xolgrohim’s way.”
“Do you plan to take any action?” he snapped.
“Definitely. I am going to comfort Tarcuna a lot. She seems a bit shaken.” Which was an understatement. Tarcuna was curled up under my wing, bristling and hissing. I suppose that having been wormridden once leaves one a bit distressed by the idea of other, even more malevolant forms of overriding the will. I hissed useful promises to her — I wouldn’t let any paingods take over her (real promise) or even Trest (vague intention). I know how to kill them because my parents did it a lot (not so confident here — Xolgrohim knows a lot more about dragons than he did then, and we’re a lot weaker than our parents, and he’s already dead. Plus side though, we’ve got a necromancer.) He can’t get me because I can’t feel. (No clue — nobody’s tried pain magic on me. It would be nice if it could work.) Even the greatest paingods couldn’t subdue dragons with their power. (Probably true. Cterion and Rankotherium talked about brushing pain-spells off with a flick of the vô. Of course, Xolgrohim probably has other powers than pain.)
None of that helped. Tarcuna wasn’t scared, she was disgusted. Xolgrohim seemed like a magical super-cyoziworm to her, and she couldn’t endure the thought of so many people wormridden, or dead-god-ridden, or whatever it is.
Tarcuna uncoiled after a while, but smelled utterly devastated the rest of the day and didn’t want to leave my side. (She’s asleep in my barn, while I’m writing this. I hope she’s better tomorrow morning.) Markosh wanted lots more details. I didn’t want to distress her any more, so I sent Markosh to Osoth.
It’s Osoth’s problem anyways. He brought the silly god-lich with us, he can clean up after himself. I heard him giving Markosh ancient Dorfindalian riddles though, so I don’t think he was very helpful.
Anyways, this is an extra mess which we simply did not need. We’re here to get married. Not to fight undead gods (or import them), punish empires, hunt down mind-controlling worms, or any such distractions.