Dealing with Xolgrohim
On the way up, the mechanics and native gods of Ghemel told of the other things their erstwhile master had forced them to do. Three big towers on the three tallest hills of Ghemelia now held twistor cannons, not much inferior to the Peace Everywhere Array. To try to kill my parents if they showed up and didn’t immediately dive into the Pit of Despair, of course.
I yelled at Ythac until he stopped fretting about the intruding dragons for long enough to locate Xolgrohim’s sapphire bottle. Naturally, it was deep underground in a concrete maze, with the last of Xolgrohim’s seven big twistor guns at the bottom of it so he could kill me or a parent if we were about to kill him from close at hand. «If you or your parents try to burn it out, the three twistors get to whirl you to bits before you’re very far in,» wrote Ythac. «And right now the twistors are pointed in a triangle: if you try to destroy one, another one will hit you. Leave your dead god alone, he’s not going anywhere, and help me deal with Chevethna and all.»
«No, no. It’s time for my revenge,» I explained.
«If you get ripped apart while you try to pry open that dragonproofed oyster of a paingod, it won’t help your revenge, or me, or Tarcuna, or anyone but Xolgrohim.»
«I’m not going to get ripped apart,» I said. «I am far too clueless and confused.»
«That doesn’t make any sense,» he replied. So I told him my plan — well, 6/12 Tarcuna’s plan, 4/12 Khudris’ plan, and 2/12 my plan — and he complained that it was hopeless and stupid but he’d let me do it anyways since he couldn’t stop me.
At the head of the stairs, in the wasteland around the Pit of Despair prison, the Ghemelians tied Tarcuna to my back — she preferred to die by my side than get controlled by Xolgrohim, if things went badly — and set off on their errand. I set off on mine. This consisted of flying in crazy circles around the city, roaring, “Xolgrohim! Xolgrohim, you coward! Come out and fight me!”
And he did, somewhat, though as battles royale go, it wasn’t very flashy. I don’t think Xolgrohim even knew that it was a battle royale until the very end.
“Jyothky!” he shouted. In this case, he was a strong square man of obvious Trestean ancestry, presumably one of the captured soldiers, trailing the astral tentacles of Xolgrohim’s possession. He stood on top of a flat tile rooftop, one tenement building in a slum, and spoke into a microphone amplified by some battered stereo equipment.
I circled over his head. “Xolgrohim! I have escaped your foolish little prison!”
“I beg your pardon, Jyothky. I had somehow gotten the misapprehension that dragons kept their word of honor.”
“And so we do, feeble and incompetant paingod! And so we do!”
“So how is it that you have left the Pit of Despair?”
I flew in quick wide circles. This was important. I didn’t want to stay still for long enough for any of the great weapons to shoot at me. “Your gods, your soldiers — they are no more!” For some reason, when I wanted to seem clueless and belligerent, I tried to talk like Llredh. Probably Llredh only uses it as a distraction too, come to think of it.
“My gods and soldiers were not the reason you were staying there!” I’m pretty sure that Xolgrohim wanted to argue me back into the Pit, back to my position as bait for his trap. Maybe he was just offended.
“Fool of a paingod! The reason I was staying there, she is on my back!” That was a tactical mistake on my part, if he started wondering how I got her strapped there. So I started trying to describe the battle I hadn’t had, without actually lying. “Your gods — they are weak against claws and teeth and the swiftness of the tail! Your warriors — they are weak against breath and against the Lure of Dreams!”
“Your vow, it is weak — altogether!”
“My vow? I never break a vow! What I break, is your trap, your warriors, your power!”
And on and on like that. I had no real idea how long the Ghemelians would take. So the discussion wandered around from topic to topic.
“Jyothky!” boomed Xolgrohim in a voice thick with mechanical static. His stereo amplification really wasn’t in very good shape. “A thousand of my subjects, Ghemelians and Tresteans, are now standing here and there around the city, holding sharp, sharp knives!”
“Bah! Are they too poor to afford guns and missiles? But know this, fool of a necromancer: if a thousand knifemen come at me, a thousand knifemen will die. If a grand come at me, a grand will die,” I blustered. I didn’t quite get his point, which is just as well. So he had to explain it.
“I was not going to have them attack you directly. I respect the thickness of your hide quite devoutly! Instead, if you do not go back to your cell, I am afraid that I will cause them to turn their knives on themselves.”
Well, misunderstanding that took a lot of effort, but I managed it. I hooted at him, “So that they bop me with the pommels of their daggers? Xolgrohim, fool of a Xolgrohim! I despise weapons, but I know weapons! You love weapons, but you do not know weapons! The pointy end of the knife is the dangerous end, not the pommel!”
“No, they shall not use their knives on you, neither front nor back…”
“Unless you have poisoned the knives! A thousand poisoned knives might sting me. But, squishy little paingod, know this: I am expert with the spells of healing, and I am not the least among toxicologists!” Sounding more and more like Llredh; I even borrowed his hobbies. And it’s not strictly a lie: I remember a little of what Llredh told me (plus healed poisoned Tarcuna), and presumably the least among toxicologists is the one who knows absolutely nothing.
“Forgive me for an imprecise speech. They will kill themselves!” Paingods are not very nice when you back them into a corner.
“And what sort of an attack upon me might that be? I am not such a glutton as to eat a thousand hovens worth of poisoned meat! Five, perhaps six, at the utmost! Seven if they are small! Eight if the poison is particularly delicious!”
“I did not expect you to eat them, and, in fact, the knives are not poisoned.”
So after that we argued for a while about whether the dead hovens would be better off dead, and thus outside his service. To delay things more, I went off on a tangent at the end of the argument. “Well, I challenge you to this. Command one of your hovens to kill himself. Then I shall fly the body to my fiancé the mighty Osoth — whose powers you yourself depend upon crucially! Osoth shall interrogate him posthumously, and have him explain which condition he prefers.”
“Jyothky, your understanding of death is great, I am sure, but I have actually been dead for some centuries. I say that life, even as the slave of a painlord, is preferable to death.”
“The life of a mhelvul god, perhaps! These are not mhelvul gods, they are hovens! Tell me, Xolgrohim, how long were you a dead hoven?” If Headmistress Inth heard me making such a specious argument, she’d rap my knuckled with a ferule, dragon or no dragon.
“Ask your slave, if you wish. Tarcuna, is the life of a hoven sweet to you?” asked Xolgrohim. Then he roared with anger. “Jyothky! What treachery is this? Hovens are slaying my guardsmen!”
“I can’t tell what’s going on.” But presumably my freed and hopefully protected Ghemelians were about to break into his dragonproofed crypt and smash his bottle. Time for more distractions. “Oh! What I meant to say before is, your spell on me fell off, so of course I killed all of the guards I felt like and flew out. I wanted to ask you, though — put that spell on me again, and I’d be so happy I’d do you another little favor like going back in that pit. I truly miss being able to feel, really I do.”
“I am afraid it is an awkward time…”
“Well! How d’you like that!” I chirped mockingly. “I offer to make myself bait for your trap, but you’re all ‘oh, it’s a bad time, maybe you could come back next Thursday and we’ll have some tea and then see about just what sort of curses we can place on you but you might have to wait ‘til Tuesday week when I think I have an opening in my schedule at 2:15 but we need to be done by 2:35 promptly.’ Well, I want to feel again. Now.”
“Jyothky, give me just ten minutes…” he said. Oh, dear, I hoped my Ghemelians weren’t that close to getting defeated.
“Now!” I roared, and landed on the top of the tenement next to Xolgrohim’s victim. He could shoot me if he wanted. “Now, instantly! If you delay even a single second more, I shall fly home and tell my parents everything about you! What chance of revenge will you have then, Xolgrohim?” If there’s any better chain to tug on a vengeful ghost’s spirit than that, I don’t know it. And had better learn from Osoth for the next time one of his pets gets loose.
He started dancing and chanting his borrowed body, working on the spell. “I shall endeavor to hurry, both for your convenience, and for my own…” Twenty-six steps into the dance, the sevenfold psychic cable granting Xolgrohim possession of his victim frayed and splintered, scattering darts of commanding will in all directions. The Ulthana’s Targe did an adequate job of stopping them from hurting me or Tarcuna, but I daresay some of his former subjects will be trying to dance the painspell dance for days.
«Ythac? Where’s Xolgrohim’s bottle now, and is he in it?»
Ythac must have cast seven spells, he waited so long to reply. «I think those heroes have pulled your tail out of the volcano,» he wrote. «Now will you please come help me with the other dragons?»
«It’s not so big of a hurry, really, is it? I want to go check.»