Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lemuel [Episode 106.5]

“Do you know who I am boy?”

“Yessir.”

“Say it. I want to hear it.”

“You sir are General Octravius Culver. Hero of the Battle of the Greensward and Liberator of the three Greenhells--”

“Edens! They were Green-Edens when we took them over. It was only after betrayal and malfeasance that they descended into hellishness. I conquered Eden itself three times over only to see it corrupted, poisoned, turned against me by my enemies.” The old man slumped back onto his rough bed, palsied hands wiped away the memory of sweat and mud and blood. Green thread-like tendrils curled and coiled just beneath his waxy skin, a lingering reminder of how wrong things went so long ago and far away.

Lemuel knew that if he could see the green-marks there was too much light in the room so he turned down the alcohol lamp. The General could not tolerate bright light. It made the green-things under his skin twitch and writhe with life. The green-things tormented the general and anything that caused him displeasure or discomfort caused him to torment Lemuel. He belonged to the old general. No one else wanted him.

“Bah. You're a worthless little shit, like all these ignorant peasants.”

“Yessir.”

The old man glared at him for a long time. Lemuel needed to pee really bad. But the General was in one of his moods again. A bad one. He clamped his legs together and waited it out.

“I've been good to you boy. When no one would take you in, I gave you a place, fed you, clothed you, taught you how to be a man and a soldier. I beat the weakness from your flesh and scourged the fear from your mind. Preparing you for your holy mission.”

“Yessir. Thank you sir.”

“You're of an age now. It is time for you to leave for Wermspittle. Before...you become twisted and ruined like some of your kin. But before you go I wish to give you something. Here. Hold out your hands.”

A knife. No. Not just any knife. The one Grandfather, the General, made his name with all those years ago. It was heavier than it looked.

“I pass on my knife to you so that you will avenge me boy. That is your only purpose in this life, you holy mission. You will avenge me!”

“Yessir.” The knife turned in his hands. The well-worn handle slid into place.

The old man sat there staring at him. His bed reeked of hatred.

The knife struck three times before he could stop it.

He ran from the room.

He took nothing with him.

Except for the knife.

His Grandfather's knife.



Hedrard stretched her shoulders with a series of bony clicks. She stood taller, straighter now. Frailty fell away from her like chaff from wheat in a mill. An old cold light twinkled in her eyes; it was not a pleasant thing to behold by any means. Lemuel had some idea of what she intended to do. What she could do. He knew of her power first-hand.

Spiders. Huge, wicked things that served vampires. A swarm of them was approaching. Lemuel looked at each of his companions. Bujilli was tired. Leeja had suffered a draining attack that left her weakened. Hedrard was still struggling to free herself of the after-effects of the spells the Purple-eyes had used on them both. The other two were useless. Well, the roof-runner might manage to do something with the knife they'd given them...but he didn't want to bet on it...especially not with their lives.

"Get everyone moving. I'll buy us some time. Just let me know which way you're going--up or down--and I'll follow as soon as I am able."

Bujilli looked into Hedrard's eyes. A mistake. Lemuel knew that as well.

"Up. We'll look for a way to get back to the roof-tops and take our chances with the Synchronocitor. It got us here in the first place, I'm hoping it can get us out of here once it has recharged."

"Go then. I'll--"

Lemuel rushed past them both. The make-shift barrier collapsed as he pushed his way through it.

"Scheiss!" Hedrard made to follow then stopped herself. Lemuel looked into her eyes. She knew then that he was no longer her problem or property and never would be again. She smiled ever so slightly, then he turned back to the business at hand and drew his Grandfather's knife.


"Hand me the knife." Hedrard demanded.

Lemuel refused. He tried to shake his head. It sloshed and jiggled wetly making him dizzy.

"It is a hateful thing. One that will only bring you pain and sorrow. Give it to me, if only for safe-keeping..."

"No." He struggled to get the word out--it felt like his mouth was filled with thick, sweet honey, like he was drowning in the stuff, but he could breath just fine. It was disorienting.

The hag glared at him hotly. Few dared to refuse her. But this boy, this low-land orphan defied her. Perhaps there was hope for him yet.

She had already examined the knife while the boy was recovering from his drastic transformation. Bujilli had only barely managed to save what he could of the boy. The effort had nearly claimed them both...now they would be inextricably bound to one another.

"Have it your way then. But I will not have that knife in my work-space any longer than is absolutely necessary. Once you are stable enough to leave, you'll take it with you."

"Where?"

"Where will you go? I've spoken with Zirl. Shiidri will take you to him when you are ready."


They said there was maybe six of the spiders out there. They were wrong. There were twelve of the things. The spiders were not afraid of the boy rushing to meet them. Lemuel smiled; they would learn to fear him soon enough. He had hunted river-spiders and the noose-weavers that infested the forests near his people's enclave. These things were bigger, but they were only spiders and he knew how to kill spiders, even really big ones.

THUNK!

Lemuel skidded to an abrupt stop. A single black spike of gleaming chitin jutted suddenly from out of his chest. One of the Varn-spiders had caught him from above, impaled him on its blade-like claw. He twisted about, tearing his wermhide sheath in the process, and hacked through the flexible joint of the limb. Three cuts and he was free of the thing. He drew out the spider-leg and cast it aside. Another spider sensing an opportunity rushed in to bite him. He stabbed it in one of its larger eyes. It shrieked and recoiled from him.

The rest of the spiders moved-in to surrounded him. Good. That would make this easier.

The knife flashed hatefully in the blue-tinted gloom as Lemuel charged the nearest spider.


“So you are Lemuel then? Of course you are. No one else would stand there dithering in the darkness like that. Come in boy. I've been expecting you. Hedrard has told me quite a bit about you.”

It took him a bit of effort to reform a working tongue. Speaking wasn't easy for Lemuel. It took concentration. But it was getting easier as he relearned how to do it. “I um Lemuel. Sh—She sent me. You.”

“Yes, yes, I know. You've been through a terrible ordeal. Hedrard told me. You need not explain; I am very familiar with the ravages of White Powder and all its derivatives, including Hard Candy. You are very lucky young man; most people in your situation wouldn't be walking about let alone trying to re-learn how to speak. No. Most of them would be reduced to oily black puddles of corruption after the Vile Transformation. But not you. Somehow you survived the process, were dragged out of it by the intervention of this Bujilli person. It remains to be seen if they've done you any kind of favor by doing so, but where there is life, there is hope.”

“Hope?” It was not a word he'd ever heard before. He wasn't sure what it meant.

“Of course. Otherwise Hedrard would have ended you when she had the chance. Instead she sent you to me.”

“You?”

“I am Zirl, Keeper and Curator of Atrocities. Hedrard has asked me to consider becoming your mentor here at the Academy.”

“Will you?”

“A good question. I am uncertain. There isn't a lot to work with in your current condition--”

“Monster. I monster...” Lemuel held out his hands, turned them over and back again, tracing the stitches in the wermhide that formed his new skin. His translucent flesh glistened wetly through gaps in the hide where his movements had loosened the seams. He was mostly gelatinous now; a shapeless, formless thing that only had a manshape because of Hedrard's hard work and clever stitchery.

“What do you know of monsters boy?” Zirl shook his head; “You are not a monster because of your recent physical transformation. You are not even a monster because of your upbringing. Yet.”

“Not Monster?"

"Not hardly. The one who gave you that knife was a true monster, but you already knew that, didn't you?"


Another spider-limb flew over his left shoulder. He brought his elbows back into the other one's eyes, rupturing them into a wet greenish mess. They'd given up biting him after the sixth time. He'd twisted off the front half of the last one's face or whatever you called their front-parts as it tried to withdraw its fangs. The poison coursed through his flesh, mingling with his fluids and becoming a part of him. It felt good. Warm. Comfortable. It made the Baby Teeth Hedrard had set into his jaw ache with the need to bite back...so he lunged toward a spider, clambered on top and sunk his teeth into it right behind its cluster of eyes. It tasted salty.

CHAK! A spider knocked him to the floor. They knew better than to try to impale him again.

Three more spiders swarmed over him. Biting, stabbing, rending, doing everything they could to hurt him, to kill him.

He snapped a spider's leg. Punched another in the fangs. Stabbed the third one in its belly and dragged the knife back out through its face in a spluttering gush of innards and fluids.


"She wanted you to surrender the knife, didn't she?"

"Yes. Won't."

"It's bonded to you. Strongly. Culver had a gift for such things."

"You Knew ... gr ... grandfath--"

"Octravius Culver was many tings, but he was not your Grandfather. Not by blood. That would be impossible. His parents had kept him down on their farmstead well past the point when all children need to leave. He was rendered sterile. The other...deformities...were not obvious ones, so he managed to pass as nearly normal, most of the time."

"No. General was my..."

"General? Culver was a corporal when he deserted his unit during the Greensward fiasco. He managed to keep a very thorough journal and to make very detailed maps of his route through one of the Greenhells and tried to barter those for a position on the faculty. It wasn't until later that we discovered that he had been copying from the work of a Pruztian Military Cartography unit that had been wiped-out by disease, poison or something else. He was summarily exiled and went back to the Low-Land swamps. To your people. He probably bought you from your relatives."

Lemuel sank back into himself. He had been bought by his...by Culver...but he had thought that was the way it was done. What else was there to do with an orphan? The Mills had been bombed into rubble. The Labs were burned-out shells. The mines were flooded or filled with poison gasses. There wasn't much point in investing too many resources in a kid who would either run off in the Spring or turn into some sort of freak if they stayed too long past the onset of puberty.

"The knife is a Pruztian General's ceremonial dress dagger. The blade is forged from meteoric iron and it is heavily imprinted with Culver's hatred and insane lust for revenge. You can keep the thing, if you choose to do so; just be aware that it is a toxic influence on you and that it will continually try to subvert your will. I suspect that Culver did a great deal more than just hand you this knife. He raised you, didn't he?"

"Gave roof. Food. Clothes. Beat weakness out."

"You were trained to be a weapon, not a human being. That my boy is the work of a monster."


Twelve spiders, each larger than a pregnant cow, wriggled and writhed in a gore-splattered heap at Lemuel's feet. He'd hacked-off the legs of the ones he hadn't had a chance to kill yet. He walked from one to the other of the dismembered things and used the knife...Culver's hateful knife...to end each spider.

When he was finished, Lemuel surveyed his handiwork and felt conflicted. It had been a glorious fight, if a bit one-sided. The spiders couldn't really hurt him; not with poison, or fangs, or stabby-claws. He reveled in the languid, lingering heat of the spider-venom flowing through his body. It felt good. More than good. He looked down on the ruptured chitinous thorax of a spider, examined the contours of the exposed organs and tissues. There was something beautiful in it that he had never been able to see before. He felt as if his eyes were opening for the first time. It felt good. He reached down into the remains of the spider and pulled forth a dripping gobbet of flesh and swallowed it. The taste was like nothing he had ever experienced before. He took another piece. And another.


"If you would be more than a cat's paw for some sick-sad-dead failure with delusions of being a war criminal, I may have a job for you...if you are interested."

Lemuel stared at Zirl. He knew the man was being truthful--he could taste it in the air, see it in the overlapping swaths of color that shimmered around him. His body had been drastically reorganized, something to which he was becoming adjusted, but now his past, his sense of history, his sense of self were having to adjust as well, and it left him feeling disoriented, vulnerable, and very much alone.

But he wasn't alone. Deep down he could feel the glowing golden kernel of something that Bujilli had left behind. A gift. It was supposed to reside inside his bones, like it did inside Bujilli, so he made sure that he had at least a few bones, especially a jaw, so he could anchor his tongue and talk better.


Lemuel gulped down the last of the sweet meat from his seventh spider-leg. It wasn't quite the same as bog-crab, but it was pretty good, once he got past the saltiness. He could feel his body breaking-down the spider-flesh, some portion of him studying the stuff, learning from it, incorporating it into his own flesh. His body was learning the spider's tricks. Already smooth chitinous plates were growing over the wrecked parts of his wermhide skin-sheath. He wanted to free himself of the truss that Hedrard had fitted him with, but he was not ready to do that just yet. He needed to learn more things, and not just spider-things. He smiled then tore off some shreds of wermhide and swallowed them as well. His body could learn the secrets of the werm-things to reshape and rebuild the hide sheathing his gellid form.

He looked at the knife in his hand. It radiated black, inky strands of festering hatred that coiled and curled like fetid smoke. Spider-flesh sizzled along the blade. It reeked like an old man's twisted ambitions and dead dreams. It made him sick. Then he realized that it was literally making him sick. The longer he held on to it, the more twisted and deranged he would become. He looked at the knife again. It wasn't his. It never was his, never would be. There was no reason to keep carrying it around.

Lemuel left the old man's knife stuck in the brain of the largest spider. It didn't stop calling to him until he was more than a mile away on his way down into the depths of the Gormenstille. The others wanted to leave this place, and he appreciated that, understood it, but he had a job to do. Besides, he felt like a kid in a candy store...



On a Mission for Zirl...
Lemuel is descending into the depths of the Gormenstille in order to carry out some errand on behalf of his mentor Zirl. But what sort of business would the Keeper and Curator of Atrocities have within this place? Lemuel's adventure is only beginning...



Series Indexes
One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six


About Bujilli (What is This?) | Who is Bujilli? | How to Play

Bujilli's Spells | Little Brown Journals | Loot Tally | House Rules

Episode Guides
Series One (Episodes 1-19)
Series Two (Episode 20-36)
Series Three (Episodes 37-49)
Series Four (Episodes 50-68)
Series Five (Episodes 69-99)
Series Six(Episodes 100-ongoing)

Labyrinth Lord   |   Advanced Edition Companion

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