The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Friday, October 1, 2010

Yark Excerpt

Okay, seeing as how I ran that Yark review that Michael Critzer wrote for NextGenPulp, I thought I might as well give you guys an excerpt from the book, so here are the first two I did a lot of writing during the last ten years. Yark is available over on Amazon, by the way, and this is a link to a slideshow over on Youtube where you can see all the illos:

Written and Illustrated by
Mark E. Rogers

Chapter 1: Tabula Non Rasa
Curled up in a pit in a giant fruit was a yark named Snash. He didn’t know he was a yark or that he was named Snash, although he would once he needed to; he didn’t know he was curled up in a pit either, although he’d have to figure that out for himself, later. To the extent he knew anything at all, it was that he wanted to snooze some more---he was perfectly happy in the warm wet darkness, at least when he wasn’t being disturbed by the tremors, although he forgot those as soon as they stopped.
Even after the bangings and the thumpings and the liquid sucking noises started up, he managed to drowse on, though the noises made him twitch. But once he began to hear the voices---one gutteral, the other higher-pitched and snotty in tone---he got progressively more awake. Having just enough room to slide his clawed hands up, he pressed his ears---they were long and rather like a dog’s---down over his ear-holes, but the voices still penetrated, and he found himself paying more and more attention to what they were saying.
“Garn!” one snarled. “You’re like a boil someplace I can’t reach…you ask too many filthy questions, Snurgit.”
“I’m a brain, Mogrog,” Snurgit replied. “Brains ask questions.”
“And you should all go straight to Hell,” Mogrog said. “Your heads are too big for your breeks.”
Snurgit asked: “Haven’t you ever wondered why we can just do things?”
“Do things?”
“Like talk? Right from the first, I mean, just as soon as we’re pried out?”
“Everybody can talk,” Mogrog shot back.
“If they’re the kind what talk at all.”
“No,” Snurgit said. “You take men now…”
“You take ’em.”
“The young ones don't know a thing. They’re…blank slates.”
“Blank slate my bum. I’m sick of listening to you…”
Snash could see how Mogrog might be, given Snurgit’s awful tone; on the other hand, Snurgit’s questions were genuinely interesting. Snash wondered: was he able to speak even now, or would he have to be pried out first? Certainly, he understood what was being said. He wondered what Snurgit and Mogrog looked like; for that matter, what anything looked like…
“You’re just mad because you don’t have a great big brain,” Snurgit was saying.
“Well maybe I don’t,” Mogrog replied. “But why don’t you save all your stupid questions for someone else with a great big brain?”
“I asked my chief,” Snurgit said. “But he had me copying parchments, and said I didn’t need to know, and when I kept asking, they sent me down here---”
Mogrog laughed. “And you still can’t figure it out.”
“I have a theory, though,” said Snurgit. “There must be something---magic maybe---in the pellets, the ones that get things going in the pits.”
“Pits?” Mogrog asked. “You mean these?”
At these, Snash heard a wrenching sound, and suddenly whatever he was curled up in tilted, then settled back down with a muffled gurgling noise.
“No, that’s not a pit,” said Snurgit.
“Came out of a big fruit, didn’t it?”
“But it’s not what I mean when I say pit---”
“Whatever,” Mogrog growled. “Come on, you pansy, lend a claw---”
More wrenching; Snash’s comfortable little envelope rolled up and out of wherever it had been, and he found himself turning over a couple of times before it came to a halt against something---dim yellowish light was seeping through the sides now. Snash blinked. He’d never seen any light before, and he didn't think he liked it…dark things were moving around out there, blocking out the light in places. The word shadows leaped to mind…
“There, look,” said Mogrog. “A pit, see? Just like all the other ones we’ve pried out.”
“The pit,” Snurgit said, “is the thing the fruit grows in.”
“You’re both wrong, you maggot-heads,” came a third voice, more distant, from someone who’d apparently been listening in. “The pit’s this whole place. The big cave, see? Those holes in the ground, they’re the shafts, and those things we dig out of the fruits, they’re the seeds.”
“What festering dung!” broke in a fourth voice. “You should keep your mouth tucked under your hairy armpit, Kruzhnagh, if you’re going to come out with shit like that. The big cave is the big cave. The pits are the holes in the floor, and nobody calls those things we dig out of the fruits anything.”
“Nar,” Kruzhnagh answered, “I told you, I call ’em seeds.”
“And I call ’em pits,” said Mogrog.
Snurgit said: “It’s almost as if---”
“What?” asked the other three, all at once, sounding very irritated.
Snurgit went on: “Whoever put the words into our heads really hadn’t thought it all through---”
“That’s cursed rebel talk!” cried the fellow who wasn’t Mogrog, Kruzhnagh, or Snurgit.
“I was simply speculating---”
“Want me to report you?”
A sullen silence followed. But presently Mogrog said:
“You know, you brains aren’t very smart.”
Snurgit didn’t respond.
Mogrog laughed. Then a jolt went through Snash’s seed, or pit, or whatever it was, and Mogrog said: “Not sure I want to bother with this one. We’ve already made our quota for the day, and this is the damn runt, and the runts are the hardest to get out.”
Snash knew that a runt was something small, pathetic and not very worthwhile. Snurgit asked: “What then?”
“I’m tired,” Mogrog said. “Let’s just mark him stillborn---” Snash felt another jolt through the shell, “with the old grease-rod, and the next shift’ll just haul him away and toss him in the fire.”
Fire? Snash thought desperately. He had, of course, never seen fire, or anything else except the light through the wall of his pit (or seed), but he knew they were talking about something that would eat him.
“What if he’s not stillborn?” Snurgit asked.
Mogrog answered: “Who cares?”
Snash registered his concern with a squeak.
“He’s alive,” said Snurgit.
“Won’t be after this.” Snash heard a rasping sound; one of the shadows moved; suddenly something hard came through the wall and went right between his thigh and his body (he was curled up, remember) then jerked back out again.
“There!” said Mogrog.
“They’ll see the hole!” answered Snurgit.
“We’ll plug it with trash and paint over it…here, use this bit of stuff…” Snash saw the shadows moving again. “And mark it, now, if you know what’s good for you…”
“Hola there, vermin!” came a new voice, very ugly and loud. “What’re you up to?”
“This fellow’s stillborn, captain!” Mogrog cried. “We were just marking---”
Snash squeaked again.
“What was that rat-noise?” the captain cried.
“I didn’t hear anything,” said Mogrog.
But the captain was having none of that. “Get him out of there, and no more nonsense! There’s a runt shortage upstairs!”
There was a pause after that. Then, as if the captain had gone away, Mogrog said disgustedly:
“Runt shortage. What good are the little lice anyway?”
“They’re fast,” said Snurgit. “Carry dispatches.”
“Who do you think you’re talking to? You think I didn’t know that? My question is, what do we need dispatches for? If you have someone to carry the damn orders, why can’t he just tell you what the order is, and skip all that writing shit? Reading makes my head hurt.”
This was enough to fetch the snot back into Snurgit’s tone. “Get a lot of dispatches, do you?”
“Bite…my…bum,” said Mogrog. “But in the meantime, let’s get this damn runt’s…pit---”

It took them a while; Snash heard much huffing and puffing, and all kinds of scraping and knocking, and his pit was jerked and jostled something awful. Then, finally, nasty hard points broke through on one side, and a line of light opened up beside him, and widened….Mogrog and Snurgit’s grunts and curses suddenly sounded a whole lot clearer. Snash coughed out two lungfuls of fluid, blew his nose and took his first breath, wincing at an influx of horrible smells.
“Now!” cried Mogrog. “Come on, you---”
There was a loud crack!, and all at once the whole top of the pit lifted up; two blurry figures leaned into view. Purely by reflex, Snash swiped gunk from his eyes and blinked.
Yarks, he thought...the term hadn’t crossed his mind until then. Holding pry-bars and wearing harnesses studded with metal, they had black skin...looking at his arm, he saw it was the same shade. Bald, with shiny scalps, they had long ears that hung down (just like his), and slitty glinty eyes that were black all the way across. Both yarks towered over him from about the same height (he guessed it was because he was a runt and they weren’t), but they were very different in build. Downright skinny, one had a swollen head which looked too heavy for his scrawny neck, and since he seemed just like a brain, Snash guessed he must be Snurgit, which meant the other, who was a great big mass of bulgy muscles, his harness creaking, was Mogrog.
A...bull, Snash thought. Bulls, brains, runts...
Mogrog gave Snash a closer look.
“Not a mark on him,” he said. “How did I manage not to stick him?”
Snash noticed a tool stuffed into Mogrog’s belt…he believed that items like that were called mallets. Without warning, Mogrog took it out, leaned farther down, and bopped Snash on the forehead, asking:
“Feel that?”
Snash rubbed his head and nodded.
“Understand what I’m saying?” Mogrog asked.
Snash nodded once more.
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Two,” said Snash.
Mogrog squatted down next to the pod. “Now listen up, you wretched little gob of phlegm…I know you were listening in there, but… you didn’t hear anything, right? I didn’t try to stick you, and you have no complaints at all, see?”
“But…” Snash squeaked.
Mogrog bopped him on the head again.
“Oww!” Snash cried.
“I’ve got some mates upstairs,” Mogrog said. “You make trouble for me, and they’ll make trouble for you. You’ll be going about your business, and one of them’ll come up behind you, and you’ll have your throat cut to the spine….How does that sound?”
“Bad,” said Snash.
“Then mind your own shitty breeks,” Mogrog said, and bopped the runt a third time. “Or we’ll mind ’em for you.”
Snash wrinkled his nose, wondering why Mogrog and his mates would want to mind his shitty breeks (if he ever acquired any breeks at all).
“Get up!” Mogrog snarled.
Snash uncurled himself and stood, dripping slime.
“Look at ’im,” said Mogrog. “Garn, I hate runts…and he’s an even bigger runt than most.”
“What do you mean by that?” Snurgit asked, and this exchange went on for a while, but Snash was too busy looking at his surroundings to pay any attention.
The big cave, Kruzhnagh had said…Snash knew what big meant, but this cave was bigger than anything he’d imagined. It just went on for, well, a very long distance, and its ceiling, upheld in spots by pillars of rock, was quite some way above the floor. The light, pale yellow, was coming from luminous creatures, themselves very big, hanging from the ceiling on long strands…the word spiders came to mind. Every once in a while they dropped down, grabbed yarks from the floor and climbed back up with them.
As for the floor itself, it was full of holes, the openings arranged in very orderly fashion, separated by broad lanes. A few of the holes seemed to have what Snash guessed were fires burning in them; black against the red light, figures were feeding the flames with pit-halves and bodies.
But most of the shafts seemed to be filled up with great yellow fruits, bulging up one to a hole, blotched with black---many were in the process of being hacked up by two-and-three-yark teams wielding long-bladed implements that were midway between cleavers and swords. Snurgit and Mogrog had blades of the same sort slung across their backs, and were standing, still arguing, ankle-deep in the insides of one of those giant fruits. Off to the side of them, Snash was squishing from foot to foot in the guck. Lengths of peel were stretched out in five directions, like the arms of a starfish, although he was kind of fuzzy about what a starfish was…Bits of pulp were scattered all around.
He began to watch a team working on a fruit two shafts over…after spreading the peels out, they thrust their bars deep into the pulp until they found something, then went back to work with their cleavers, removing material until they could pry the pits out. Once those came free, the teams opened them up with the bars, freeing gooey yarks who looked mostly like Mogrog, although there were some big-headed ones like Snurgit as well.
As the teams started in, the fruits were well down in the shafts, but once a bunch of their insides were pulled out, the fruits rose higher and higher, as though something were pushing them up, now that they were getting lighter…Snash saw a fruit, cleaver-team and all, rise suddenly out of one shaft on a burst of greenish vapor; it didn’t quite rise as high as a gigantic glowing spider hanging right above it, but the spider remedied that by dropping down and snatching two of the workers before the fruit fell back to the floor…
Snash heard a rumble, and a tremor passed through the chamber, coming up through his legs out of the fruit below him…he had to fight a bit to keep his balance, the spiders above all began to swing rather crazily on their lines….off to his right, a crack broke open in the stone, and a long thin stream of bright orange lava began to squirt up---
“What do you have for me?” a voice bellowed.
Snash looked round to see that a bull even bigger than Mogrog had come up, carrying a whip...a deep scar curled his upper lip.
“Slagbag,” said Mogrog.
“Mogrog,” said Slagbag. “What do you have?”
Mogrog pointed to Snash.
Slagbag cracked his whip. “Get over here, runt!”
Snash began to muck his way across the pulp…once he stepped out of it, shaking the stuff off his feet, Slagbag got behind him, gave him a hard shove, cried, “Get moving!” then flicked a bit of hide from the runt’s naked behind with the whip. Snash yelped and started running, along between the shafts…having been curled up in a pod for his whole existence, with the exception of the last few minutes, he felt pretty stiff.
“Faster, you stinking bloodclot!” Slagbag bellowed.
Arms churning, Snash obliged, working his protesting muscles and ligaments as hard as he could. Still, he wasn’t going fast enough for Slagbag, if the next flick was any indication. The whip bit Snash right where it’d bitten him before, seemed to hurt him twice as much as last time, and got him working even harder, so much so that he swiftly pulled way out ahead of Slagbag---the thud of Slagbag’s boots faded quite a bit, at any rate. Finally Slagbag cried:
“Hola there! Slow down, you grub you!”
Snash didn’t think he knew much about grubs, although he had a definite impression that speed was rarely an issue with them; even so, he slowed, and as Slagbag toiled up, began:
“I thought you wanted me to---”
“How can I whip you if I can’t keep up? Garn, you runts are a bad idea! What’s the point of a yark who’s too fast to whip?”
He snapped the lash at Snash once more, catching him on the chest---Snash winced, turned, and sped off, although not too speedily.
They stopped after a bit though, long enough for Slagbag to pick up another couple of newborn bulls along the way; Snash was glad to have them, because they were bigger and slower than him, and he could easily stay out in front, keeping them between him and Slagbag, who didn't seem to care who he was whipping….as he ran along, Snash noticed other teams of newborns being driven along other lanes by lash-wielding drivers.
It took quite some time before he neared the curving wall of the cavern; there was a huge opening in it, into another vast chamber, apparently, and the lanes converged to pass through. On either side of the yawning mouth, crowds of naked newborns were penned in thorny on the right, a party of yarks in head-to-toe leather suits were stringing fresh thorns even as Snash’s party approached. Even though the stringers were wearing hide gloves, they were constantly recoiling and flinching, as though they had stuck themselves---Snash heard them crying: “Ow!” “Ah!” “Garn!” “Nar!” “Shit!” “You filthy---!” and other things along similar lines.
A long gate stood open in the pen on the left; guards with halberds motioned Slagbag’s charges inside.
“All yours!” Slagbag snarled; halting inside the enclosure, looking back between black sweaty bow-legs, Snash got a glimpse of him loping off, and wasn’t sorry at all to see him go.
Several more troops of newborns came in shortly afterwards; then, somewhere, a horn sounded, its harsh notes echoing through the cave. New guards replaced the bulls at the gate, who departed, crying: “Out of here!”
Looking back out towards the shafts, Snash saw dozens of new teams replacing the ones on duty. The shift-change seemed to excite the spiders, who started picking off yarks with greater frequency. They appeared to occasion a certain amount of upset in the immediate area of their descent, but for the most part, everyone seemed to be taking it in stride, resuming work right after the spiders went back up with their wiggling prey….Snash heard a lot of whips cracking.
The other newborns fell to talking among themselves; it wasn’t long before a quarrel started up, right behind Snash:
“And I say you do stink worse than the rest of us!”
“And I say you’re smelling your own stink!”
Certainly someone was unusually ripe, which was really saying something; they snarled the same witless exchange over and over again...Snash turned to see two muscular brutes practically snout to snout, bodies tensed, muscles quivering...not surprisingly, it was hard to tell just from eyeballing them which one smelled worse...Snash thought maybe the one on the left looked stinkier.
Finally one of the bulls from the gate thrust his way up beside Snash and bellowed: “Shut your gobs, you carrion!”
“Or what?” sneered the debater on the left.
“Or this!” answered the guard, thrusting his halberd into that yark’s shiny black forehead, then pulling it out…yanked forward as the blade jerked loose, the victim rocked off his feet, the guard stepping aside to let the corpse drop right at Snash’s toes.
The guard sniffed, then squatted next to the corpse and sniffed again. “Was him. Phew!” He stood back up, fanning his face…after wiping both sides of his halberd-blade on Snash, he roared: “All right then! No…QUARRELING!” and went back by the gate.
The newborns were pretty silent after that, although there was some whispering, much of which was so soft that it couldn't be understood, and had to be repeated. This state of affairs lasted for some while, until three yarks came over from the other enclosure, a bull with a round-headed spikeless mace backing up a pair of of them was extremely skinny and veiny, a strange cup-like tube with a glass at the end of it affixed over one eye with a strap.The other brain had a bit more meat on him; his cheekbones were higher, and his nostrils had a pronounced arch, giving him a haughty, sniffy look; he was wearing sandals, and leather robes with a badge clipped on…There were letters on the badge, red against black, an I and an E---for the first time, Snash realized he could read.
“Line ’em up!” cried the brain in the robes.
The gatewards banged the butts of their halberds on the stone and shouted: “Four ranks! Now!”
The newborns scrambled to comply….Snash wound up in the front line. Once everyone was formed up, the brain with the eyepiece began side-stepping from yark to yark, giving each an examination, looking in their ears, eyes, noses, and mouths, then sniffing them all over….leaning forward a bit, Snash saw him ten newborns down, standing in front of a bull who looked a bit malformed, even by yark standards…Eyepiece nodded, apparently to someone behind the yark being scrutinized. There was a loud bok! and the bull grunted, and fell face forward, twitching on the stone. “Compost,” Eyepiece said, and produced a little white stick, and drew a letter on the dead bull’s back---Snash guessed it was c for compost, wondered briefly how he knew that.
Same way you know how to speak, he decided. At any rate, the white greasy c stood out very clearly on the black corpse.
The examiner had already resumed his slow sidestep along the line. Snash leaned back, looking between the first and second ranks…the mace-bearing guard who’d accompanied the two brains was moving along with the inspector, stopping behind every yark the inspector stopped in front of….each time he halted, the guard stood grinning and nodding, hefting his weapon, as though he simply couldn’t wait to crack another skull. Suddenly the mace-bearer noticed Snash looking at him, and growled:
“What do you think you’re looking at?”
Snash just gulped and leaned forward, waiting in awful suspense as Eyepiece proceeded down the line towards him, stopping at last before the big muscular brute on Snash’s left, a specimen so impressive that Snash thought he’d surely pass muster; but the inspector didn’t seem to be very far into his inspection before he nodded to the guard, and Snash heard that bok! again, and down the big fellow went. Eyepiece drew a B on the corpse, said, “Burn,” apparently to himself---
And then stepped in front of Snash. Trembling, sure he was about to die, since he was so pathetic, even if there was a runt shortage, Snash just stared down at the inspector’s black-taloned toes sticking out through the front of his sandals.
“Lift your chin, damn you!” the examiner snarled. Snash lifted his face, but closed his eyes.
“Open your eyes,” the brain said, and Snash did so. The examiner looked into his facial orifices, lifted his arms and sniffed, then prodded him in various places in the belly and throat, something which he hadn’t done to any of the other yarks…Snash was more certain than ever that Eyepiece was going to nod, and that the last thing that he---Snash, that is---was going to hear would be the sound of the mace striking his own skull. But then the inspector simply stepped one yark down, and Snash was still alive, feeling a certain amount of relief, even as he remained desperately unhappy with his situation.
It took a while for Eyepiece to look everyone over…Snash heard the mace strike several more times, off to the side, and behind him. Then the inspector reappeared in front, and told the brain in the leather robes:
“Done, sir.”
Sir grunted deep in his throat and nodded approval, then turned to the freshly-examined newborns and said:
“My name is Captain Spigrat, and I’m from I and E, as you can see---” Laughing at his little rhyme, he pointed to his badge with a talon-tip. “That’s Inspiration and Exhortation. It’s my job to welcome you into the system now that you’re hatched out. Fire you up, and tell you what you already know, which are minions of Serpentar, the Yark Lord, King of Tenebria and Master of Mount Adamant. You were created to further His aims, to give Him, if need be, your final breath and the last drop of your blood. Think of it! Every single one of you, even the lowliest runt, can be coals in His furnace. You have but to trust in His design---your every detail reflects His will. Immolation is not an idle word for you. As surely as you are yarks, it is within your grasp.
“So then! Do not vex yourselves! When your muscles crack and snap, and your joints pop with strain as you turn a capstan…when you feel the skin flying off at the flick of the lash…when you face ten thousand blazing blond fays with only a wooden spoon clutched in your claw, rejoice! You are not sacrificing, and being sacrificed, in vain. Each of you has a part to play in the Five-Thousand Year Plan. Consider those who have no purpose in life, and weep for them! You are cogs in a machine that never stops, that grinds the grist of the Future; turning and turning until you can turn no more, you will pulverize the foes of the Inevitable, our King on High!” Spigrat lifted both claws towards the ceiling, then flung one arm down, pointing a talon at the floor, and cried: “On your knees, you crushing gears, you instruments of annihilation! Abase yourselves to Lord Serpentar!”
While Spigrat stood nodding, the ranks knelt…Snash’s knees were quite knobby and bony, and going down on one was painful, although he tried not to show it….He wished desperately that he was back in his pit, or seed, or whatever it had been, and that he could just go back to sleep and never wake up…
I hate being a yark, he thought.

Chapter 2: Glolob’s Lair
Afterwards, the newborns were allowed to rise; the two brains withdrew and fell to whispering with each other. Snash didn’t catch any of that, but he did hear some back-and-forth between the brains’ bull and the gatewards. The Inevitable had just snagged one last enemy bigwig, who had a name that seemed to end in “button” or “bottom,” or something like that...not very scary-sounding. But his capture had cleared the way for a “final push” into Merriador, (wherever that was) and preparations had begun.
After the brains left, a squad of whipwielders arrived, and all the newborns were herded out of the enclosure onto the road, where they joined the newborns from the other enclosure, who were being herded by their own troop of motivators; once the newborns were organized into a column five files across, the drivers started in with their lashes, going up and down between the lines, and the company started forward, into the next chamber.
Snash had tried to place himself at the head of the column, but had only succeeded in landing himself ten ranks back in the leftmost file. Being all the way over on the side, he was able to get a good look at the chamber they’d just entered…it seemed pretty similar to the last one, although all of the shafts seemed to be empty, and nothing seemed to be going on. There was also much less light, since there were far fewer spiders, as though most had gone elsewhere since there was no food, or the powers that be were economizing on spiders since there was no work that needed lighting, or some combination of both…Snash wondered why he was considering such matters, then wondered if any of the other newborns were theorizing about the lighting, or indeed anything else; listening to them grunting, he decided it was unlikely and told himself he didn’t really have much in common with them, a thought which comforted him.
About two-thirds of the way across the chamber, the column reached the brink of a great crack in the floor, with redlit smoke rising up out of it; a work-crew was in the process of making (or repairing?) a wooden bridge over the fissure, and the newborns had to pass over it single-file. Looking over the railing, Snash couldn’t see much of anything except the smoke, which was very hot, and stank. Something below was chugging...he would learn later on that lava chugged like that.
He was still out in the middle of the bridge when there was another tremor; the bridge began to creak and sway, and the line started to move much faster. Even after the rumbling stopped, the bridge kept swaying, from all the frantic movements of the yarks upon it; the workers shouted at them to slow down, but no one listened. Certain the bridge was going to collapse, Snash managed to slip ahead through the line, shooting between yarks and the railing (and yark-legs when he had to), swiftly reaching the far side before any of the others even seemed to realize he was line-jumping…Once over, the newborns simply collected in a crowd, although the whipwielders were soon forming them back into a column…Amazingly, almost everyone got across, although the bridge finally did give while the last thirty or so yarks were on it, along with a bunch of the workers….Snash heard them all screaming as they plunged into the redlit depths, and he was terrified to think of what was going to happen to them at the bottom. But all the others who had made it across didn’t seem to be bothered in the slightest; indeed, some of them immediately began laughing about it, shouting: “Better you than me!”, “Flap harder, damn you!”, “Make a wish!”, “What’s that chugging down there?”, and, “Happy landings!”
Shortly the motivators put a stop to all this frivolity, and got the column moving again, into the next chamber, where there was a great deal of activity and a lot more light…wagons filled with compost that was a mixture of trash and dead yarks were being pulled up alongside empty shafts, and tipped sideways by fifteen-foot tall ogres in aprons and hoods of hide, the compost dropping down into the holes and filling them up…Farther along, all the shafts were filled to the brim.
The column pressed on into a third chamber, where the pits were leaking green vapor and stinking most horrid, some of them belching up burps that knocked pieces of offal high into the air; there were more wagons pulled up alongside the shafts, but instead of being loaded with compost, they had gigantic crossbows mounted upon their beds; ogres spanned the crossbows with cranks, whereupon yarks lifted shiny black balls, about the size of a brain-yark’s head, out of steel boxes and placed them in slings attached to the strings. Snash remembered Mogrog saying something about pellets getting things going in the pits, and indeed, once the weapons were loaded, the ogres pushed them out through a gap in the side of the wagon, on a rolling arm, tilted them straight down over the offal-filled shafts, and pulled the trigger, firing the black pellets deep into the compost.
At the far end of this third chamber, there was a great ramp that spiralled up through the black stone, its floor worn concave by the passage of countless pounding feet and rather hard to pound on as a result; at the top, the troop was driven along a torchlit hallway, very wide, its walls hung with black banners blazoned in scarlet with slogans like: “Love Your Destiny,” “That Which Whips Us Makes us Faster” and “The Inevitable is Inexorable.”
At length the motivators steered the column off into a place which seemed basically like an even wider version of the corridor outside. It was full of yarks, arranged in about twenty files, although there was still room enough for Snash and all his companions, who took up at the back…The files weren’t perfectly straight, and he couldn’t see very far along the lanes. There was a long wait as his line crept forward; he wasn’t sure exactly how long an hour was, but he thought that several must’ve passed before he got close enough to the front to see and hear what was going on. Everyone was getting another inspection; brains were working their way in from right and left, marking black hides with grease-rods and barking, “mountain,” “motivator,” “pits,” “desert,” “mines,” “smith,” “security,” “political,” “clerical,” “runner,” “mail room,” and so on, with brains getting jobs that seemed to call for, well, brains, while the bulls were being classified as fighters and laborers, and the few runts were all becoming runners. But aside from those basic divisions, it was hard to see how the inspectors were making their judgements, distinguishing a motivator from a miner, for example, when all the bulls looked pretty much the same, at least to Snash. At any rate, once someone was classified, they were hustled off to the sides by guards.
Finally Snash reached the front, where he thought he’d be pronounced a runner like all the other runts, but a brain looked him over, marked him, said: “mail room,” and passed on, even as a guard shoved Snash in the opposite direction.
Along with a crowd of other yarks, Snash found himself in a smaller chamber off to the side, where there was a great deal of shouting and confusion as everyone was sorted out and taken charge of; but Snash was the only runt in the whole place, and there was no one from the mail room to lead him away. Since there was a steady outflow from the bigger chamber, a few runts showed up from time to time, but the officers who claimed them weren’t interested in Snash at all, and no one would answer his questions…finally, though, after what seemed like a very long time, during which he was getting more and more frantic, a brain came over to him and asked:
“How did you get through inspection?”
“The inspector inspected me...”
“Well, if you’re not defective, then why are you doing your damnedst to stand there like a halfwit?”
“I was assigned to the mail room---”
The brain looked at Snash's grease-mark. “Think I can’t see that, flyspeck?”
“But no one will take me, sir.”
“Can’t you do anything yourself, you mote of dried pus?” the brain snarled.
“I don’t know the way.”
“Ask,” said the brain.
“Where’s the mail-room, sir?”
“Never been there,” answered the brain. “Ask someone else.”
“Why don’t we know where everything is?”
“What?” asked the brain. “So that anyone could go anywhere and do anything, whenever he pleased? What kind of an idea is that?”
It sounded to Snash like a good one, although he didn’t say so...
“Get out of here, you bleeding bowel-worm!” the brain cried.

It was some while before Snash managed to thread his way through all the activity, but at last he found an exit and headed off along a passage. When he asked some passing soldiers where the mail room was, they guffawed, and told him to keep going the way he was going, so he stayed that course for a time. He went up some steps and down some more, and the passage kept getting narrower…when he asked for some more directions, he got a very complicated answer, much of which he managed to forget after the first few lefts and rights…still more directions only left him farther along but with even less hope of getting where was supposed to go.
Eventually though, he came out of a stairwell to find himself in a vaulted, high-ceilinged hallway, and all that space was a relief, but the passage was lined with tall iron doors covered with rivets, and all the bars and padlocks were disquieting touches. To the left, the hall receded into what seemed a limitless distance; to the right, after fifty feet or so, was one end of the passage, another of those great doors, with a tremendously fat bull standing in front of it. Snash headed to the right.
But as he padded along, something roared behind one of the doors right next to him, the sound barely muffled by the iron, or so it seemed; he halted in fright, knees knocking, as other things, each sounding very different but equally as menacing, answered from their own cells, some of them hurling themselves against the doors, knocking rivets to the floor and making the padlocks jump. Once Snash began to get his wits back, he considered turning around and dashing right back into the stairwell; but the fat bull beckoned, and Snash continued up the hall, heart in his throat. As he approached, the bull lifted a pendulous arm, raised a metal tube he had hanging from his neck, and blew into one end of it…Snash felt a piercing sensation in his ears, and all at once the roaring and the banging halted.
“Can’t stand the whistle, they can’t,” said the bull, then told Snash: “If you aren’t completely lacking in breeks, my name’s not Sluglik.”
“Yes, well…” said Snash.
“What are you doing in my corridor, you barenaked nit, waking up my monsters?”
“That first one woke the rest up.”
“But who woke him up, you extra-salty fleck of snot you?” Sluglik asked. “You did, with your nasty flappy feet.”
“I wasn’t making very much noise.”
“As if you’d have to, if Number Seventeen was listening. He listens all the time, as nearly as I can tell, with his big sweaty ear right up against the iron…He can’t stand the whistle though. None of ’em can---”
“Please,” Snash said. “Can you tell me how to get to the mail room?”
“Mail room?” Sluglik broke in mockingly, and looked as though he were just about to tell Snash to get lost when he got a peculiar expression on his face---Snash didn’t know how to read it, although he chalked that up to being about a half a day old---and nodded.
Sluglik pointed a clawed thumb over his warty shoulder. “As it just so happens, this is the mail room right here.”
Snash tried to step past him, but Sluglik pushed him back, saying: “Hold on there! Let me get my keys.”
Sluglik reached behind his back and pulled out a ring with lots of them, big ones with complex jagged teeth; they jingled as he looked through them.
“Why’s the mail room locked?” Snash asked.
“What do you care?” Sluglik replied. “Do you think anyone gives a shit if barenaked nits are puzzled?”
“No, but...”
“Do you want to get in there, or not?”
“I do,” said Snash.
Sluglik picked out a key, fitted it into a lock in a smaller door within the door, twisted it...the lock snicked. “There you are.”
Snash hesitated.
“Go on,” said Sluglik.
Snash put his claw out and pushed the door, which creaked inwards a few inches…the glow coming through reminded him of the light down in the breeding-caves. Snash stepped back.
“What’s the matter?” Sluglik asked.
“Spider-light,” said Snash.
“What else?” asked Sluglik. “It’s a big damn room, and torches just wouldn’t do.”
Supposing it made sense, Snash decided he’d simply have to be wary…after all, the yarks down in the breeding-cave seemed to have come to terms with the constant threat…
“What are you waiting for?” Sluglik asked.
Snash took a deep breath and shoved the door open further, but hardly had he stepped through when it slammed behind him, and he heard the lock click, and Sluglik bellowing laughter on the other side.
Ahead was a chamber that was obviously very large, although he couldn’t tell just how large it was, since there were strands of spider-silk trailing down from the ceiling everywhere; from some of them hung huge globes with things moving and thrusting around inside them…the captives, or whatever they were, were glowing, their light muted by the sacs…even as Snash watched, one of the bags was breached from within, and a luminous spider, not as large as the ones down in the breeding-caves, but still pretty big, came crawling out, and lowered itself to the floor on a thread, others soon following. Quite sure by this point that this wasn’t the mail room---he certainly detected no hint whatsoever of postal activity---Snash turned and began to pound on the door, squeaking:
“Let me out! Let me out!”
Sluglik’s only response was a fresh spate of laughter.
Given this, Snash really had no good reason for pounding and begging any more, although he kept on with it until he heard the tapping sounds behind him…turning, he saw four of the baby spiders advancing upon him, rubbing their pedipalps together hungrily, and whispering, “Succulent, succulent, succulent,” apparently referring to him, much to his dismay.
Suddenly something dropped down from behind a curtain of strands; there was a loud thudding crackle, and the babies scattered away to the sides and dived into holes in the floor, revealing what looked like the withered husk, still glowing, of a spider five times their size…even as its body continued to fold and crack after that impact on the stone, the legs twitched, just a bit, in a way that suggested the thing was not quite dead.
“Still alive, hubby?” came a voice from above…much larger than any of the other spiders, even the one that had just dropped, a bloated arachnid, plainly the chamber’s main source of light, descended into view, filling all the dangling silk with her illumination…all at once she plummetted, landing athwart the husk, swollen body sinking down in the midst of her legs, belly striking her mate and crushing him cracklingly a bit more before she rebounded, almost as though she were on springs…Lifting up her behind a bit, she tilted her head forward, caressed his with her pedipalps, said: “Can’t get enough of you, honey,” and sucked whatever was left to suck out of him. Then, wiping a palp over her mouth, she tilted her head back up, and…
Looked right at Snash with her manifold eyes, obsidian domes that were the only dark things on her.
“What’s this?” she hissed.
“Could you tell me the way to the mail room?” he replied.
“Afraid not,” she said. “I don’t think they even had a mail room when I got’s been about two thousand years since they locked me up.”
“That’s a long time, isn’t it?” Snash asked.
“Some might say,” she replied. “Don’t you know who I am?”
He thought a bit. “Mrs. Spider?”
“Glolob the Great,” she said. “And who are you?”
“I believe my name’s Sna---”
“Have you marked my luminosity, Sna?”
“Yes…hurts my eyes, actually.”
“I sucked the light from the Larch of Effulgence, in the West That Went Elsewhere, back in the First Eon.”
Having not been vouchsafed any of these terms, Snash didn't understand, although, perhaps for that reason, he didn’t doubt her. It certainly sounded like quite an exploit.
“I’ve never done much of anything myself,” he said. “Of course, I’m only a few hours old.” He paused. “Is there someone else I can ask about the mail room?”
“Sluglik, through the door, I suppose,” she answered.
“He sent me in here. Might you be willing…”
“Ask him to let me out.”
“He wouldn’t, even if I did, and---I won’t. I’m still hungry.”
Snash gulped. “You just ate your husband---”
“Drank him, more like. I always save a little room for dessert, though…usually have to make do with one of the kids, but….”
Leg-tips clacking against the floor, she began to haul her great bulk forward. Snash ran back to the door and began banging on it again.
“As if,” she said behind him.
He kept pounding….he heard the other monsters beginning to act up on the other side, but that piercing sensation went through his head again, as though Sluglik had just used his whistle once more, and the roarings and screechings subsided.
“What do you think of her Highness?” Sluglik cried.
“She hurts my eyes, and wants to eat me!”
“That’s her, all right!” Sluglik laughed.
Snash heard the leg-tips clacking near…he whirled.
Glolob was bearing right down on him now, looking as though she planned to bite him, or at least seize him with her palps and thrust him into her mandibles. But her forelegs, after the fashion of such limbs, were out in front of the rest of her, and struck the wall, and even with them fully folded---Snash was in between---she couldn’t bring her mouthparts to bear, and had to back up, and try to stand off and spear him with her legs.
That, however, wasn’t an easy matter; he was very quick, and dodged and ducked, and she kept missing him, and ramming her leg-points into the door, and the littler door within it, bang, bang, bang….suddenly he heard a loud squeal, as though a metallic something had spindled and torn. Diving---just barely---beneath a thrust that put a friction-burn across the top of his shoulder, he looked under his arm…the door-within-a-door had been smashed clean off its hinges, and was lying outside in the hall, on Sluglik, apparently---at the very least, the door was heaving as though someone was underneath it and trying to push it off. Without another look at Glolob, Snash spun and went out the opening like a quarrel from a crossbow, only to be tipped over as Sluglik thrust the door off himself at last.
But Snash was too quick to let himself be pinned; even as the door slammed against the floor, he was up and backing away down the passage. Outlined by the spider-light from the postern, Sluglik was rising, shaking his head…leaning sideways to look past the corpulent bull, Snash saw that Glolob had gone motionless, but he had the distinct impression that that state of affairs wasn’t about to last. He thought of warning Sluglik but decided he had no obligation, given their short but awful history. Sluglik reached for a falchion at his belt, snarling:
“Get back here, you---”
This demand was cut sharply short; he arched back even as an impact thrust him forward with a thud...right under his ribcage, where his gut started to bulge, a glowing spider-leg, hairs pushed back but popping back up, lunged out of his insides. He opened his mouth, but the only thing that came out was spider-light, welling up his throat. Then he was jerked backwards into Glolob’s prison, prompting Snash, who had really lingered far too long, to run away just as fast as he could, feet slapping; cell by cell, on either side of him, the monsters behind the other doors started roaring again as he dashed by, almost as if they were devices he was tripping. Absolutely terrified, he saw the arch to that stairwell coming up fast on his right, slowed, almost fell, turned on one foot, then leaped inside…as he raced up the steps, he could still hear the roars progressing down the hallway below, as if the ongoing reaction no longer required him, if it ever had at all. He didn’t halt till he reached the top, a good twenty landings above.

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