Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Another Two Chapters from Yark!
Here's some more about Snash and company:
Chapter 5: Luvliel
They killed enough time at that spot to ensure that they’d get back to the sorting-station just at the end of their shift. The cafeteria was serving man-flesh with sump-scum and beetles, and Snash, feeling better after he ate, went to bed hoping for a good night’s sleep. But he kept dreaming about falling from great heights, and woke dejected and in no mood to be running dispatches, not that he was ever very much in the mood.
When the sorters gave him his first parcel, he was pleased to see that it wasn’t going up in the Spike, but to one of the few areas downstairs he was still unfamiliar with---he’d need a new map, no two. The name above the address was Arachnia Effulgencia, which meant nothing to him, though he was pretty apprehensive about “For Your Multiple Eyes Only.” When he asked Slagbag about it, over his shoulder, the motivator didn't have a clue either, not that Snash had expected him to.
“I don’t know anyone with multiple eyes,” Slagbag said. “Who has multiple eyes?”
“Spiders,” Snash answered.
“Who’d send a dispatch to a spider?” Slagbag asked.
Snash checked the return address. “This is from Power and Luminance...”
He knew that luminance and light were the same thing; spiders were used to light caves; maybe P and L would be dispatching dispatches to a spider after all. He seemed to recall that Glolob had said something about effulgence....he didn’t know what the word meant but he’d never heard it anywhere else. Might Arachnia Effulgencia be one of her titles? If she could talk, might she also be able to read? And wouldn’t her cell be in one of the areas he didn’t know too well, since he’d only found his way in and out of it once, some time ago, when he was just hours old?
He didn’t want to believe it, although that never kept things from being true...
There are lots of spiders in Mount Adamant, he reminded himself. Maybe it wasn’t going to her. Then again, if he was taking it to some other giant spider, he might as well be taking it to Glolob...but he told himself he just wasn’t going to find out until...
He actually did.
Still, as they closed in on the address, he found the surroundings disturbingly familiar---they seemed to be heading in the direction of the monster cellblock….a flight of dank stone steps exactly like the one he remembered cinched it for him…as he and Slagbag came out in that corridor lined by those big padlocked steel doors, he was already steeling himself to the thought that he was going to have to deliver mail to Glolob.
“Be very quiet as you go past Seventeen,” he whispered to Slagbag, as they snuck along. “He listens.”
“You’ve been here before?” Slagbag asked.
“Who’s that dispatch going to?”
“A very big spider. Behind that door, right at the end---”
They were just in the process of passing Number Seventeen, and not whispering softly enough, evidently; whatever was inside began roaring and tripped every other monster in the place.
But the guard down by Glolob’s door, Sluglik’s replacement, didn’t voice any complaints, having something else entirely on his mind; leaning against the barrier, he was dripping wet and trembling badly, one arm a good deal darker even than yark black and so swollen Snash thought it might pop from a bad look.
“What happened to you?” Slagbag asked.
“Her Ladyship,” the guard replied, sweat dripping from his chin. “She bit me.”
“What were you doing in there?” Snash asked.
“She said she’d knitted me something…Serves me right.”
“I have a message for her,” Snash said. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to---”
“Take it in for you? Are you mad?”
Even as Snash looked, the swollen area crept up into the guard’s shoulder and over towards his neck.
“I say we slide it under the door,” said Slagbag.
“No, you can’t,” said the guard. “She really hates that. Thinks it’s terribly rude.”
“Rude?” Slagbag laughed.
“She reported the last fellow who tried it,” the guard said, slinging sweat from his brow. “They yanked his eyes and tongue out before they tossed him in with her.”
“So our choices are---?”
“Being eaten…or being eaten without your eyes and tongue…” The side of the guard’s neck had started to swell; he tilted his head.
“I got in and got out,” Snash said.
The guard’s eyelids drooped. “Is that so?”
“A while ago...there was another fellow here then...will you leave the little door open---?”
But the guard was sliding down beside that, having just passed out.
Snash took his keys and fitted them until he found the right one. Pushing the door-within-a door open, he asked Slagbag:
“Will you back me up?”
Slagbag eyed him steadily...he was giving it some serious thought. Snash didn’t want to endanger him, but...he didn’t want to die, either.
“If it wasn’t for me,” he said, “you’d never have seen the color blue.”
Slagbag nodded. “That’s a fact...On the other hand, if I ever want to see it again...” He shook his head, dismissing the possibility. “Hell, it’s not like I have a life to be attached to...I will let you go first, though.”
“Can’t back me up otherwise,” Snash said, and went through into the spiderlight....given the glow, he assumed that Her Ladyship was some distance ahead and above, where a large mass of web near the ceiling was positively ablaze…he and Slagbag got well out onto the floor before he noticed that there seemed to be many different lights, all moving about, and when a couple of baby spiders descended into view below the strands, he realized his mistake. But suddenly a gigantic light flared behind him; he and the motivator turned to see Glolob lower herself swiftly between them and the door. It had never occurred to Snash that she might be able to turn her light on and off.
“Why, if it isn’t little Sna,” she said.
He bowed tremblingly.
“Who’s this with you?” she asked.
“My name’s Slagbag,” the bull said.
“Charming,” said the Spider. “I must say, Sna, I never expected to see you again.”
“I have a dispatch for you.” Snash said.
“Power and Luminance.”
She beckoned with a pedipalp. “Give it here…”
Snash stayed right where he was.
“Come on,” she said. “I’ve got you trapped already. You might as well.”
Ready to backpedal at top speed if she betrayed the slightest hint of aggression, he brought her the missive, which she took between the points of two of her forelegs and opened…Snash retreated hastily, and planting himself beside Slagbag, watched as the spider produced a set of wire-rims with multiple lenses and put them on.
“Dear Arachnida Effulgencia, blah blah,” she began, reading aloud, “It has come to our attention that your offspring are in short supply…Spider-Rot combined with overall attrition…informed that you haven’t been mating lately, and have been eating the males we send…blah blah…in order to ease the shortage, request that you mate with each male at least once…non-compliance will force us to refer this matter to You Know Who Himself ….Yours truly…blah.”
After tucking her glasses back from wherever she’d gotten them from, she flung the dispatch at Snash, who ducked it.
“Mate with each male at least once,” she said. “Mate with them!”
Snash tried to look sympathetic.
“They’re barely fit to eat!” she went on. “If Power and Luminance want my co-operation, they could at least send me some real males, not these little sissies that barely have the nerve to approach me!”
She began to pace back and forth before the door. “Infuriating! Insulting! Simply disgusting! They lock me up, feed me fell beasts on their last legs, then send me mates who’d rather mate with each other, and they expect me not to slake my hunger! I ask you! I ask you!”
She stopped, turning towards the yarks.
“You ask us…what?” Snash replied.
“It was a rhetorical question,” she answered.
“What if what?”
“We conveyed your concerns to P and L?” Snash replied.
“Conveyed my concerns?” she sneered, no small trick for a monster without an upper lip or nose. “You put that oh so nicely, for a yark.”
“Thank you,” said Snash.
“And, I suppose, in order to have my concerns conveyed, I’d have to let you out of here.”
She thought a bit. “You don’t have anything to write with, do you?”
“Sorry,” he said. “Although…I’ve got a good memory, and I’m quite sure I could relay the gist.”
“To think that I’d be reduced to this,” she said. “Entrusting a runt with my gist.”
“However did you find yourself in such a situation, My Lady?” he asked.
“I was tricked,” she replied. “By Serpentar. He put out the word that there was a second Larch of Effulgence. But it turned out to be a phony. I started sucking, and before I realized I wasn’t getting any sap, down came the net.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Snash.
“Save it,” she answered. “Just deliver my message.”
She drew her huge bulk aside.
Trying not to hurry too blatantly, Snash and Slagbag went by her and out the door, which they closed and locked.
“Where’s the guard?” Snash asked. “Didn’t think he would’ve gotten much of anywhere…”
“Didn’t,” said Slagbag, jerking a thumb farther up the hall, where the torchlight was glistening on a lot of dark stuff…yark blood was a tarry-black, and in spite of the fact that the guard had burst and splattered walls, floor and ceiling, the mess wasn’t particularly easy to see.
“Aah,” said Snash. It was a while before they worked up the stomach to thread a path between the puddles, and the bits and straps of poisoned meat.
Given that a report from Glolob had doomed that “rude” messenger--- the one who’d slid the missive under the door---Snash assumed that her discomfiture must count for something with the higher-ups, and decided he’d better relay her concerns to Power and Luminance; Slagbag found his arguments convincing enough, and so they went. P and L was up in the Spike, but not very far, not much more than a short jog. But when Snash and Slagbag got there, they had a hard time finding a brain who’d speak to them (let alone the right brain to speak to) and the one they did find had a good laugh at them.
“Nobody cares if she’s discomfitted or not,” he said. “If they cared, they wouldn’t be sending her those little sissies, would they? It’s someone’s idea of a joke, if you ask me. There’s no spider shortage. Not for the next hundred years. She’s just mad about something, and someone’s pulling her chain.”
Snash said: “The guard at her door---”
“Said what?” the brain demanded.
“That she reported messengers if they were rude.”
“That didn’t go right in and deliver the message.”
“As opposed to?”
“Sliding it under the door.”
“Is that how he talked you into going in there?”
Feeling like an idiot, Snash looked down at his feet.
“Get out of here,” said the brain.
But just at that moment, Snash heard a lot of bumping and slithering from a ventilation-port in the side of the wall, followed by a runtish voice crying: “There he goes!” and a good deal of “scheissing” and “ach sss-sing,” getting louder by the moment; suddenly a pale greenish body came rolling out of the port and dropped to the floor, unfolding into Glargle the instant it struck. Gasping, he looked about, saw Snash, Slagbag, and the brain, and cried “Nein! Nein! Raus, mein liebchen! Raus! Schnell! Ach!” And with that, he scrambled on all fours through the door, just before two runts dropped out of the vent and asked the brain:
“Where’d he go?”
The brain pointed to the door, and they sprinted out in hot pursuit.
“What in Hell was all that about?” Slagbag asked.
“That,” said the brain wearily, “Was Glargle.”
“But what is he?”
“No one seems to know. But whatever he is, he’s crazier than a garderobe rat. Word is he got one of his skeletal long-fingered hands into Lord Serpentar's gauntlet, two thousand years ago…His Lordship got it back about fifteen minutes later, but it drove Glargle completely mad in the meantime…Glargle’s been trying to steal it ever since. Actually snuck in here a couple of times when security was more lax, although he was chased out soon enough…no one had seen him for about a hundred years. But now he’s gotten back in, and he’s sneaking all over the place. He’s been haunting our vents for a while now…some say it’s an omen of the End.”
“The End?” Slagbag asked.
“Yes, it’s the opposite of the Beginning,” the brain said. “Didn’t I tell you to get out?”
Later that shift, they got a dispatch for the Warden of The Nail, which was the tallest of the lesser towers; set upon a crag rising from the shoulder of the volcano, connected to the Spike by a bridge, it served as Serpentar’s maximum security prison, and word was that it was full of all sorts of very dangerous customers, although no one knew exactly who or what they were.
“Know what?” said Snash to Slagbag, “I got this scrape---” He indicated the one on his scalp,“---on the side of this bridge, when the Shark Lord tossed me off the top of the Spike. One inch to the side, and I’d have clipped the edge...I bet the top of my head would’ve flipped right off, like a lid.”
“Yeah, you’re a lucky little bastard, you are,” Slagbag said.
They were almost across the span; ahead, the portcullis was going up, and out on some errand came Rakhrikh, the runt who’d said, “Hullo, Snash,” as Snash dropped past the bridge.
“Hullo, Snash,” he said again.
“Did you throw something at me?” asked Snash. “While I was falling?”
Rakhrikh laughed. “Did it hurt?”
“What was it?” asked Snash, turning as Rakhrikh passed him.
“Bit ’o pave,” said Rakhrikh, pointing downward---
Just before Slagbag brought the butt-end of his whip down on the runt’s pate.
“Oww!” cried Rakhrikh, clutching his head.
Snash turned back around. The portcullis was still up; he and Slagbag went through.
“Parcel for the Warden,” Snash said, showing it to the sentries, a pair of eastrons wearing armor made of small square plates laced together.
“There’s a big round room up the hall,” one said. “Take the stair…checkpoint at the top. The boys there will tell you where to find him.”
Since Serpentar’s human henchmen were nowhere near as given to malicious jokes as yarks, Snash didn’t see any reason to mistrust the directions; leaving Slagbag with the sentries, Snash proceeded along a shadowy passageway with a vaulted ceiling, from which decorative stone stalactites depended like black fangs. At the end the runt came to the circular chamber that the easterner had described---a stairway wound round its wall, and Snash headed up.
He was about halfway to the top when he heard voices---human and yark--- crying: “’Ere now!” “What’s this?” “Who let ’er out?” “Mind ’er damn flute!”
But all that stopped as a swift sweet dextrous tootling, quite unlike anything that had ever gotten into Snash’s ears, started up; there were sounds like armored bodies falling, and weapons clanging on a floor, and Snash began to feel lightheaded, and stopped where he was, somehow sure that if he went any closer to the tootling, he’d black out completely.
Before long, though, the music stopped; sitting on the steps, still lightheaded, he heard a bunch of rummaging...getting to his feet, he staggered further up, the effects of the flute-playing wearing off rapidly once he got his legs moving. Almost to the stairhead, he saw a faint golden light playing above it, and caught, along with the rummagings, a swishing as of long soft garments. He halted, wondering if he really wanted to see what was happening; but then a high-pitched, silvery voice, once again quite out of his experience, said: “Oh, for goodness sake, where is it?” and he simply had to look.
But when he peeked over the top, all he saw was unconscious men and yarks lying on the floor; close to the edge, one of the men was a very thin bald hawk-nosed fellow, in the crimson robes of one of Serpentar’s human wizards. The light, which was moving back and forth, seemed to be coming up from behind the counter of the checkpoint that the eastron had mentioned. Snash crawled over the top of the steps, went through a gap in the counter, and...
Was stunned by the loveliest vision he’d ever seen...indeed, since he’d never seen anything lovely before, (aside from that little patch of blue sky beyond the mountains, maybe) he was stunned even more than he would’ve been otherwise.
Clad in a long white lacy flowing garment that was vaguely translucent but not in the least indecent, a blonde fay-woman (he knew she wasn’t human by her pointed ears and the feelers on her forehead) stood up tall and straight even as he looked at her, shaking her golden locks in frustration, having rummaged unsuccessfully beneath the counter, or so he guessed. Tucked into her girdle was a flute, fashioned perhaps out of bone and inscribed with flowing letters….Heart racing with a longing he didn’t understand, Snash loosed a sigh.
Immediately she was aware of him, and reached for the flute at her belt as though it were a weapon. but when she saw the expression on his face, she seemed to realize that she had nothing whatsoever to fear from him, and asked, in her wonderful voice:
“You wouldn’t know where the spell-book is, would you?”
“Spell-book?” he replied, not having any idea of what she was talking about, but hoping desperately to hear a few more lovely words from her.
“The one for the cells,” she said. “I managed to break the spells on mine, but I need to let everyone else out, in a hurry.”
“And there’s a book that tells you how?” he asked.
“Don’t you know anything about it?” she asked.
“I’m just a messenger---”
Hearing that, she fell to searching again, going through various volumes stacked up below the counter.
“Did you search the guards?” he asked, hoping so to be helpful.
“None of them would have it,” she answered.
“What about the redrobe?”
“He should’ve,” she said. “But he didn’t…”
She continued looking beneath the counter.
Snash looked at the wizard, thought he detected a rectangular bulge in one of the man’s wide red sleeves.
“Did you search his sleeves?” Snash asked.
She seemed not to hear him, so he looked for himself…there was a book, in a kind of pocket.
“Is it small?” he called.
“Eh?” she asked.
He showed it to her. “This it?”
“Yes!” she cried, coming out through the gap in the counter. Crouching down on the other side of the wizard, she reached for the book, but just then the man growled and started to get up…taking the flute from her belt with a swift but very ladylike movement, she rapped him smartly, and the instrument was evidently much heftier than it looked, because he slumped right down, even though the flute broke in two. Then she reached for the book once more.
But before Snash could turn it over, a troop of yarks appeared out of an archway, and yelled when they saw all the men and yarks on the floor, and the Fay-woman free; she whirled and tried to put them all to sleep, but of course her flute was broken, and she didn’t even have the end with the mouthpiece…as the guards closed in on her, she backed up, managed to get over the wizard, but tangled up on Snash, and the two of them went rolling down the stairs. Half-wrapped in white fabric, which was swishing the whole while, he took a number of dreadful knocks, particularly on the knees, elbows, and head, and squeaked in pain at each impact; the Fay-lady, on the other hand seemed barely put out by her unceremonious descent, and only came out with an occasional “Ooo,” and “Ah.” Still, when it was all over, and they banged to the bottom, she was out cold, though he wasn’t quite.
His hand was underneath him, and there was something in it…he still had the spell-book.
He could hear the guards clattering down the steps…without thinking, he raised himself up a bit, thrust the book inside the neck-hole of his tunic, then lay back down as the other yarks collected about the escapee, squatting and leering.
“Garn!” one cried.
“You said it, Gorlub!” another replied.
“All that white flesh,” said Gorlub.
“Yeah!” said the second.
“Makes me want to…want to…”
“Well, of course, Batghash, goes without saying---”
“Eat her alive?”
“I want to do something…else.”
Batghash and the others laughed filthily, as if they knew just what Gorlub was talking about; Snash was skeptical, however, since he had been filled (by her) with a yearning that was almost agonizing, even as it left him without a clue about how it might be satisfied.
“We could drool on her!” one of the other yarks suggested.
“Goes without saying as well,” said Gorlub. “But---”
“What then? Pinch her? Tweak her?”
One after another, getting very worked up, they began to shout suggestions:
“Hang her in chains.”
“Scream at her!”
“Eat her food right in front of her!”
“Scrawl nasty sentiments on her walls!”
“Hit her with a dead toad!”
“Hit her with a live toad!”
“Blow our noses on her!”
“Put on her clothes and jump around like idiots!”
“Fart in her cell!”
“Show her our butts!”
“Show her our butts and then fart in her cell!”
“No, no,” said Gorlub, shaking his head. “There’s something else.”
“You do it with females,” Gorlub said.
“What’s a female?” Batghash asked, whereupon Gorlub slapped him and nodded towards the lady, snarling:
“That’s a female, you splat of Grawkshit!”
“And what are we?” Batghash asked.
“We’re yarks!” said another, hopping.
“Yeah,” said Gorlub. “But we’re all male, see?”
“And there’s something males do to females?” Batghash asked.
“Besides showing them our butts?” asked that other yark.
“Yeah,” said Gorlub. “But…it’s making my head hurt, trying to think of it.”
“Well, while you’re working on that,” said Batghash, “let’s show her our butts.”
“No point till she’s awake,” said Gorlub.
“Oh, right,” said Batghash sourly.
Gorlub seemed to become aware that Snash was looking at him, and turned. “You don’t know what males do with females, do you, runt?”
Snash shook his head.
“Is she dead?” came a voice from up the stairs. Snash saw a red-robed man---not the same fellow that the lady had cold-cocked---coming down the steps.
“No sir, Warden,” said Gorlub, he and all his comrades rising…Snash got up as well, the book sliding down inside his tunic, as far as his belt...he moved his parcel-bag over to cover the bulge.
“And how exactly did Princess Luvliel get out of her cell?” the Warden asked.
“Don’t know, sir,” said Gorlub. “But when we came to the guard-station, everyone was down, and there she was, loose…we charged her, and---”
“I tripped her,” Snash broke in.
Gorlub glared at him, then told the Warden: “She was already backing towards the stairs---”
“But I made sure she backed over me,” said Snash.
The Warden glanced at Gorlub. “Is that what happened?”
“More or less,” Gorlub said.
“What’s your name?” the warden asked Snash.
Snash told him.
“Messenger, eh?” the Warden said...his glance lingered a moment too long on the parcel-bag...because of the book, there was a space between the bag and Snash, and of course the Warden had noticed...Snash cursed himself...how could he have been so stupid?
But the Warden only said: “You one of Khuttarh’s boys?”
It was a moment before Snash realized that he hadn’t been found out...then he opened the bag, said, “Brought a parcel for you,” and handed it over.
The Warden gave it a cursory glance. “You like working for Khuttarh?”
Snash said nothing.
“Sick of running the Spike?” the Warden asked.
The question raised a whole series of possibilities…
If you worked in the Nail, Snash thought, You’d be near Her…Maybe you could figure out how to use the book, let her back out…
“Do you need any runts, sir?” he asked.
The Warden shook his head. “Not really. But you deserve some reward, I think…In the meanwhile, though, I have underlings to chastise…Be off.”
Off Snash went.
Chapter 6: Yarks of Interest
Later, while Snash and Slagbag were off shirking in the Needle, an abandoned tower that had served as the maximum security prison until the Nail was built, Snash told the motivator what had happened, and even showed him the book. But, after listening to the whole story without a single interruption, Slagbag, unable to control himself any longer, finally burst out:
“Has your brain gone wormy? Is that it?”
“Maybe,” Snash conceded.
“What are you going to do with that book?”
“Keep it in my locker.”
“But what do you want with it?”
“Maybe I can use it to help her, somehow.”
“What’s she to you?”
Snash got such a perfectly idiotic look on his face that Slagbag just wanted to smack him, and barely kept himself from doing it, saying instead: “You are daft, daft, daft.”
“You don’t understand,” said Snash.
Being told this didn’t make Slagbag understand any better. “You’re damn right I don’t.”
But Snash went on: “She’d make you feel...the way you feel when you’re looking at the color blue. She’s like that.”
“No, no…She’s all pink and golden and white.”
“No, she has pink skin, and golden hair, and a white garment that you can kind of see through, but it isn’t at all indecent.”
“I’m not sure…” Snash paused. “Also, she has this light about her. I could see it even when she was down behind the counter.”
“It’s not important.”
Slagbag eyed him narrowly, then shook his head. “You are begging for the axe, you know that?”
“For one thing, you shouldn’t have told me. How do you know I won’t go straight to the higher-ups?”
“You wouldn’t,” Snash said.
“I could get myself a promotion.”
“Nah,” said Snash.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Are we?” Slagbag asked.
“Well, since we don’t have a word for friends, mates will have to do.”
Slagbag weighed this point. “I suppose. But…even if we are mates, you’re going away.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re going to leave me. Get a transfer.”
“Oh, right,” said Snash.
Slagbag asked: “What am I going to do?”
Looking as though he felt very sorry for him, Snash shrugged. “You know, I hadn’t even thought about that.”
“I don’t want another runt,” said Slagbag.
“Ah, cheer up,” Snash said.
“Why should I? I’m a slave. My master’s Evil Incarnate. I have to run up and down inside a two-mile high smokestack, and the best runt a motivator could ask for is about to be taken away from me and replaced---no doubt---by a shitty runt that’s no good at all.”
“Well, how about this?” Snash asked. “The Warden said he didn’t need any runts…what do you bet he’ll forget all about me?”
“Think he might?”
“The Higher-Ups don’t care about us.”
“But yarks do get promoted, sometimes.”
Snash nodded. “But I’ve got a hunch that nothing will come of it.”
“Of course,” Slagbag said, “maybe the Warden will figure it all out, and you’ll get a transfer to the back of a compost-wagon.” He paused. “Me too.”
“Tell you what, though. You might do better hiding that book someplace other than your locker. Somewhere in here, maybe.”
“Good idea,” said Snash. Looking about for a likely spot, they found a crack in the wall of an old armory; all the weapons were gone, but the racks were still there, and after Snash put the book in the crack, he and Slagbag moved one of the racks in front of the fissure. Then they went back down to the mail room.
Snash soon had cause to be glad he’d hidden the book up in the old prison; the following night, as he awoke for his shift, he came down to find two brains with Burning Curiosity badges, (which showed the Eye of Serpentar glaring through a doorway at a tiny cringing figure) searching his locker.
“You Snash?” one asked.
Snash nodded. “What’s wrong?”
“Where is it?”
“All right, have it your way…Where’s your motivator?”
“I meet him at the mail room.”
They headed off with him.
“Snash?” Slagbag asked as the three of them came up.
“You’re coming with us,” the brains said.
“Burning Curiosity. Lose the whip.”
They went to the Spike, where, listening to the brains complain to each other, Snash learned that they’d just been transferred to the Main BC Office from a lesser branch lower down, and weren’t used to the stairs; as soon as they were reduced to a truly laughable plod, they requisitioned a whip from a passing motivator, and ordered Slagbag to lash them with it. Snash stayed well out in front, listening to the cracking of the whip, and their yelps of pain; staggering to the door of the Main Office, they took the whip away once they recovered (it was a while), and without a word of gratitude to Slagbag for his services, got behind the motivator and Snash and followed them inside. A clerical brain looked up wearily from a writing-desk, while a couple of ogres glowered nearby, arms crossed on their massive scaly chests.
“What have we here?” the scribe asked.
“Yarks of interest,” said one of the brains who’d brought Snash and Slagbag.
“Five Hundred and Three.”
The scribe looked at Snash. “Name, class, rank, number.”
Snash gave them, and the Scribe scribbled them down. After Slagbag gave his, the ogres came forward, and Slagbag was tucked up under an armpit as though he didn’t weigh anything at all; even as Snash marvelled at Slagbag being thrust there so effortlessly, the other ogre locked a thickly callused, all-but bone-crushing grip around Snash’s arm, and he was slung face-down over a massive shoulder, which was none too comfortable, particularly once the ogre got going, since the creature’s scales were like great warts or studs....the brute’s every movement made Snash’s chin scrape against the lumps, which seemed to have even smaller lumps upon them, apparently the better to abrade him.
On both sides of the hall were wooden doors, banded with iron…already very low and squat, they got much squattier farther along, and Snash guessed they were the doors of cells for runts, a surmise soon confirmed when he found himself inside one of the little smelly holes, where there was barely enough headspace for him to sit up. Holding his knees, chin upon chest, he waited in the darkness, simply assuming that he was doomed, and that someone at the Nail must’ve seen something, or simply must’ve figured it all out. He wasn’t much worried for himself; he was much more concerned about Slagbag, and he wished he’d never revealed anything to him.
But as for Luvliel, he couldn’t quite convince himself that he should’ve acted differently…thoughts of her overwhelmed all his arguments...every detail of her appearance kept running through his mind, the pointed ears, the feelers, those bright blue eyes, the silky blonde ringlets, that wonderful translucent fabric, and above all the glow...he fondled every word she’d ever said to him, especially, “You wouldn’t know where the spell-book is, would you?”
Repeating her name was also very soothing.
Luvliel, Luvliel, Luvliel, he thought, and lulled himself to sleep in that stifling cramped space.
He had no idea how much time had passed when the door swung open, and a great vambraced ogre-arm reached in, seizing him with a blunt-clawed four-fingered hand; moments later, he was slung over a shoulder again, and the beast was carrying him along the hallway, muttering to itself about “stinky soup” in a low, muzzy voice. Since there were about twelve different sorts of Stinky Soup---Snash preferred the kind with chunks of leech--- Snash wondered which variety the ogre was going on about, although he felt a bit too drowsy to ask him.
When he got to the interrogation room, though, Snash’s head cleared pretty quick---it was the barking more than anything else. About the width of a breeding-pit, there was a hole in the floor in the middle of the room, and the barking was coming from that---a brain wearing elbow-length leather gloves and a leather apron told the ogre: “Show him,” and the lumbering monster unslung Snash from his shoulder and dangled him out over the pit. It was full of small but extremely muscular canines with hairless white skin and oversized pointy-snouted heads that looked fully a third the size of their bodies…seeing Snash dangling above them, the creatures began to leap straight upwards, snapping at him with frothing jaws lined with double rows of long sharp fangs.
“Ever heard of pit-wolves?” the brain asked.
Swinging by the arm, Snash shook his head desperately.
“Well, that’s what they look like,” said the brain, pointing. “This is our first go with them…thought we’d give them a try. They’re supposed to be better than pit-hogs---”
Snash had heard of those.
“---Superior leaping characteristics. Don’t know if it’ll make that much difference, though…” The brain signalled the ogre, who promptly set Snash down on the edge...then a bull extended a gaffing pole over the pit. Suspended from chains that hung from pulleys on the ceiling were two harnesses, one runt-sized...the bull snagged the smaller rig and pulled it over, then cinched Snash into it and gave him a shove. As Snash swung back and forth over the pit, staring down at the little naked wolves with their gaping, snapping oversized jaws, the brain said:
“My name is Ripsnag, and I’ll be your interrogator tonight.”
He nodded towards the bull, who went over to the wall, unhooked Snash’s chain, and payed out about a yard of slack…as Snash jerked to a halt, something on the back of the harness popped, and he tipped forward, as though whatever fastened the chain to the harness was now less securely fastened itself.
“Don’t make ’em like they used to,” Ripsnag laughed. “Is there anything you’d like to tell us?”
“Like what?” Snash cried.
“What happened with Princess Luvliel?”
“How she escaped, you mean?”
“Yes. How did you arrange it?”
“I didn’t have anything to do with that!”
“I came to deliver a message.”
“To the Warden?”
“To the Warden.”
“Had you ever been to the Nail before?” Ripsnag asked.
Ripsnag nodded to the bull again, who lowered Snash another yard, whereupon something else behind him popped, and he tipped forward even further, although his feet did swing up, and so were not as close to the pitwolves as they might’ve been otherwise…
“Are you sure?” the interrogator asked.
“They keep a log, down in the mail room,” Snash answered. “Check it. That was the first time I ever delivered anything to the Nail.”
“Do you know a runt named Rakhrikh?”
“Did you speak to him on your way into the Nail?”
“Him hitting me with a rock.”
“I was tossed off the top of the Spike by the Shark Lord.”
Ripsnag laughed. “You were tossed off the top of the Spike by the Shark Lord?”
“Why would he bother with that?”
“Haven’t you ever seen all the yarks impaled on the tower-tops below the Nail?”
“Actually, I don’t get out much.”
“The Sharkriders make bets with each other,” Snash continued.“They toss yarks down, and see if they can catch them.”
“What a vivid imagination you have, little fellow,” said Ripsnag, and nodded to the bull a third time.
But before Snash could be lowered any further, a voice from the shadows on the right said, “Hold,” and the bull paused….Eyes straining into the gloom, Snash made out a seated black figure, eyes burning red in the darkness of a hood. Ripsnag went over and bowed…Snash heard whispering. Then Ripsnag said, “Very good, My Lord,” and returned.
“So Rakhrikh hit you with a rock?” he asked Snash.
“As I dropped past the bridge.”
“But you and Rakhrikh go back a bit, don’t you?”
“I knew him down in the mail room. But I hadn’t seen him since he was transferred…Until I dropped past him, that is.”
“When you worked in the mail room with him, were you…mates?”
“I hated him,” said Snash. “He was always playing jokes on me.”
“Didn’t you meet him when you ran the Spike?”
“Come on...the two of you discussed Princess Luvliel.”
“I told you, I hadn’t seen him since---”
Ripsnag broke in: “He never mentioned a…book?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about---”
“Broggduf,” said Ripsnag to the bull, who lowered Snash yet again…nothing else popped in the harness, but the pit-wolves were in a snarling, snapping frenzy, drops of their slabber striking the runt’s feet.
“We’ve already questioned your motivator,” said Ripsnag. “He says you met with Rakhrikh more than once, in the Spike, and that you discussed a book.”
“I don’t believe it,” Snash said.
“Oh,” said Ripsnag, “I assure you, he did.”
“You’re trying to trick me.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I never met with Rakh---”
“Broggduf,” said Ripsnag, and down went Snash still further, until the pitwolves were nipping at the tips of his toes.
“I’ll ask you one more time,” said Ripsnag. “What is the nature of your association with Rakhrikh?”
“We weren’t mates!” Snash cried. “He treated me badly! When I was falling from the Spike, and about to be impaled, he hit me with a rock! I never did any plotting with him, and I don’t know anything about a book…Doesn’t it matter that I tripped that princess or whatever she is when she was trying to escape---”
“Enough,” said the darker shadow amid the shadows.
“My Lord,” said Ripsnag. “Do not trouble yourself. This is a matter for an underling, of humble abilities, such as my own.”
“Too humble,” said the shadow. “Draw him up.”
Broggduff complied, grunting. Chains clinking, Snash ascended in a series of jerks…since nothing else had popped the last time he was lowered he was sure something was going to now, but it didn’t. Not having really thought things through, he was relieved, but only until it occurred to him that the sharkrider was about to take a hand.
Rising at last, the ghoul emerged from the darkness, tall and terrible, his swift silent gait the most sinister Snash had ever seen, hands down. Between the fact that the sharkrider had confirmed Snash’s story about being chucked off the Spike, and the fact that Burning Curiosity was headed by the Shark Lord himself, Snash guessed that the awful approaching apparition could be no one else…The Right Hand of Serpentar came up to the edge, then stopped, eyes burning in the shadow of his hood.
Enduring that glowing gaze was bad enough; squirming, Snash wished the harness would just drop off the chain so the wolves could get him. But awful as the eyes were at a distance, they got still moreso as the distance closed…with a shock, he realized that they had begun to drift forward, out from under the sinister snood. Slowly they floated towards him, until, after a seeming eternity, they were hovering a few inches before his face, one cocked a bit higher than the other.
“Snash,” said the eyeless void inside the hood.
“My…My Lord?” the runt replied, heart racing madly.
“Dost thou know where the book is?”
It seemed at first that Snash really needed to answer the question, truthfully at that...the eyes were very compelling...his heart would surely burst if he didn’t tell.
Before he could betray himself, he summoned up, without even realizing what he was doing, a blessedly clear memory of Luvliel, interposing the image between himself and the eyes. His heart steadied; terror faded; he was no longer quite sure where he was.
“Snash?” a voice asked. Snash thought, vaguely, that it belonged to the Lord of the Gage Ghouls, although, it seemed strangely un-threatening, indeed, almost uninteresting, as though he didn’t quite have to pay attention to it…still, just to be prudent, he decided he’d better make some sort of response.
“What was the question again?” he asked.
“Dost thou know where the book is?”
But Luvliel’s image never wavered...Snash could barely see the eyes through her. She said:
“What book?” Snash said aloud, lipreading, then remembered nothing after that---
Until he came to on the edge of the pit, with Broggduff unfastening him from the harness…the runt looked about dazedly…he didn’t see the Sharkrider anywhere.
“Take him back to his cell,” said Ripsnag to the ogre.
Snash was held a good while longer, and although they didn’t question him any more, they didn’t feed him either; getting very hungry, he was beginning to worry that they’d forgotten about him altogether when a jailer came by and let him out, even as Slagbag was being released from one of the larger cells down the corridor. When they were brought out where the scribe was and told to get back to work, Snash asked for a note.
“A note?” the scribe asked. “What do you mean?”
“A slip,” said Snash. “Something we can show our bosses. ‘Snash and Slagbag missed work because they were being interrogated,’ something like that.’”
The scribe just laughed. “We don’t do that.”
“Well you should,” said Snash. “We’ll get in trouble.”
“You know, puke-stain,” answered the scribe, “I’d get right out of here, if I were you, and count myself lucky.”
“Is that so?” asked Slagbag.
“You know how many yarks of interest wind up as dead yarks that no one’s interested in at all?”
“A very high percentage.”
“Please,” said Snash. “Couldn’t you just dash something off?”
“Where did you get this idea from?”
“Perhaps it’s innate,” said Snash. “We’re not blank slates, you know.”
“Then why doesn’t everyone ask for notes?”
“Because you kill so many of us off?”
“Get these comedians out of here,” said the scribe to an ogre.
“Leaving, leaving,” said Snash, and he and Slagbag rushed out the door before the ogre could toss them.
They had another hideout nearby, a rather dangerous one, at the bottom of an old crumbling airshaft, and after making sure that they weren’t being followed, they went there. It turned out that Slagbag had gotten off far easier than Snash, who asked:
“They didn’t hang you out over pit-wolves?”
“What’s a pit-wolf?”
“In a pit?”
Snash nodded. “You get hung out over them.”
“Nope, nothing like that,” Slagbag said. “There were two brains questioning me, and only one of them seemed to think I knew anything. They started quarrelling, and just let me go after a bit.”
“You never told them I spoke to Rakhrikh a couple of times?”
“Never came up.”
Snash had expected to hear as much.
Slagbag said: “Now they did want to hear about you and Rakhrikh, though. I just told ’em the truth….”
“They think it was an inside job,” Snash said.
“What do you mean?”
“That the Princess had help.”
Snash nodded. “But I’m pretty sure she didn’t.”
They were silent for a while. Then Slagbag asked:
“So what did they do to you, besides hang you out over pit-wolves?”
Snash told him about the grilling, and the intervention by the Shark Lord.
“His eyes floated all the way out of his hood?” Slagbag asked.
“They did. They were this far from me.” Snash showed him.
“That’s an unsettling detail,” said Slagbag. “Although…what do you think would happened if you just grabbed his eyes?”
“I bet it would hurt…they look like live coals.”
“What if you grabbed ’em and real quick, dashed ’em on the floor?”
“I don’t know,” said Snash.
“And stepped on ’em?”
“Well,” said Slagbag, “maybe I just better hope I never have to.”
Snash thought this was sound thinking.