Elder Players' Group


(by Mark L. Stinson....this story follows Interlude Seventeen)

Vavasha poured four drinks into crystal glasses and turned to his guests. "Perhaps we should step out onto the balcony, and let this fair beauty sleep soundly." The four men stepped quietly past the sleeping Kit, and through large glass and metal doors onto the high star-lit porch beyond them. The lights of the capital city of the empire reflected in their eyes as they sipped their bitter spirits. "Citadel...Jestak's Imperial City...it gets bigger and brighter every year."

"I decimated cities ten times this size in my day...in my age. All for the glory of my name." Ashe did not attempt to hide the regret reflected in his voice, and he looked away from the glow of the city. "At times I find myself feeling disgusted with how weak a Dark Lord the Red Jackal has become." Ashe laughed quietly. "Why is it so hard to shed that part of us that drives us to do evil?"

Now Grazzum laughed with Ashe. "I've burned cities at least this large...because they refused to pay me tribute...women...treasure...whatever struck my fancy that year, decade, or century! But at some point you get to the point where you've done it all...seen it all...accomplished everything you ever imagined you might accomplish. Most of that young drow's friends would consider her old in years, but to me she is a child in this world. I suppose that is the attraction."

Vavasha words were firm. "You should leave her be, you know. She has experience and knowledge, but you will only destroy her with your attention."

Grazzum looked down into his drink, and then up into Vavasha's eyes, one blue, one as red as blood. "I intend to let her be. I will not linger with her long enough to 'destroy' her, as you say." Grazzum looked back through the tall glass and metal doors and smiled. "But it is so hard to leave her be."

Grinval put a hand on Grazzum's shoulder. "What could be so important or shameful that you would hide if from us, Wyrm? I am a master deceiver...and...with all due respect...you are clearly holding something back."

Vavasha nodded. "I sense this deception, also Grazzum Infernus...."

Grazzum snorted, and a bit of smoke and sulfer slipped from his nose and was carried away by the night winds. "The young drow carries my future within her. A mixed child...scales and flesh...spit and fire...hands and talons...." There was a low rumble deep in the human throat of the ancient dragon. "Though I have warded her from knowing, a male dragon-spawn grows within her."

Vavasha's head dropped and his eyes closed. "You had no right....."

"SHE GAVE HERSELF WILLINGLY..." and then in a whispered voice, "And who are you to lecture me about rights...let alone right and wrong? You are not a white-mage, Vavasha...your past is well hidden to many, but not to me, old man. I was at Tallone...at the Scarlet Siege...remember? I know what base acts your capable of...."

Grinval stepped forward with his hands outstreched. "Gentlemen...gentlemen. We are all capable of so much good...and so much evil. It is the nature of power...the nature of man, to be tempted...and to sometimes fail. Some of us just happen to fail more often than others...."

Ashe smiled, "And none fail more often than you Grinval, is that it?!?" The four elders on the balcony laughed at this, and the conversation turned away from Grazzum's revelations regarding Kit. Vavasha's bottle of bitter spirits was emptied, and things were spoken of that night that no mortal ears should ever hear. Knowledge that would drive a common man to madness. Sadness that would break a mortal's heart and joy that would dim forever-after any future happiness. Sitting in comfortable chairs, the four immortals watched the night fade and the sun begin to lighten the rim of the sky.

After a span of silence, Ashe scratched his handsome, but wrinkled face. "So...what will your Emperor want done about the demons that are spreading in the Azure Kingdom?"

There was a long pause, but finally Vavasha answered. "We took the hearts of the Sins that had escaped Birchmont...but the Pit Fiend is a different breed altogether. He did rush to rape and destroy the people of the Azure Kingdom. No he is a tactical creature, hardened and made clever by endless war between devil factions. First the Pit Fiend cloaked his location. Then he gated in a his fellow devils. And those devils gated in more devils. Whole devil armies are gathering in the valleys and crevices of the Azure Mountains, and we are ill-prepared to face their might. I sense a presence in our world that may well be She That Suckles the Hoards of Hell!" Vavasha paused and closed his eyes, his breaths short and shallow. "I did not speak of it before, because Kit must know nothing of our plans...it is too early. But, I have arranged, at Jestak's direction, to seal the Azure Kingdom. Temporary measures are in place to contain the devils...but a more permanent seal will be erected soon. The populous is to be warned by Imperial decree, and they will be given time to escape...but when the seal is put in place...all that remain within shall be trapped with the devils."

For a long time no one spoke. It was Grinval that broke the silence. "If the Azure Kingdom is to be sealed, I must return there before I am trapped outside."

Ashe spoke up immediately in a scoffing tone. "'Trapped outside?!?' Surely you mean to avoid being trapped inside, with all the devils and demons?"

Grinval avoided eye contact with the others. "No. I spoke correctly. The Azure Kingdom is my home, and has been for many many years. It is there I belong. And have I not spent my entire life courting the favor of infernal powers. I belong in the Kingdom, though it be damned. Especially because it is damned!"

Vavasha looked towards Grinval with a odd look of curiosity on this face. "My good man. I have known you as an evil mage since the first time I became aware of you...perhaps a hundred years ago or so. Oh, there's been glimmers of goodness about you...a random act of kindness here or there. But for the most part you have been striking deals with demons, performing horrible favors for dark deities, and tempting men for all these many years. How was Kit able to court your favor and kindness? Why did you give her the advice about the Book of Purity? By Kempin, how did you even know that bit of advice about the White Book!?! And in the end, why did you agree to join us in destroying the last of the seven Sins that that had been released?"

Grinval's eyes were dark, and his face was very grim. "Could we not let this matter go with a simple, 'Kit's beauty captivated me,' or 'the goodness of her cause strangely moved me?' Could we not just let this matter of my motivations pass by with no answer at all, perhaps?"

Grazzum leaned forward in his seat. "When you challenged my deceptions earlier, I came forward with my dark secret regarding the young drow. You owe us the same level of truthfulness...at least on this night."

Grinval nodded. "I have wandered in the wilderness all these many years, scheming for power...for money...for importance. I am a man with no soul, it seems. I lost that soul some 600 years ago, in a dark damp room, laying in my rough cot, praying to my lord Hieroneous. It was then that she came to me. A frightening but wonderous sight, her power, her strength, her sense of purpose. She promised me that I would never have to beg for a god's favor or forgiveness again. She promised me her undying and eternal love. She promised me endless pleasure and pain, and everything I had denied myself during those many years of service at the Temple. She was my Salvation and my Damnation. My name was once 'Brother Simms'...and my lover was She That Suckles The Hoards of Hell. When she slaughters every living thing on this world, it will be my death she savors most...."

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M. Ludwig Stinson, P.O. Box 28204, Gladstone, MO 64188