3.17 – A Slight of Hand

Location: Nektar’s Cauldron
Timeline: Sixth Age of Substance, 46th Year, Spring

Enough about Nathily and Emcorae – who cares, right? Let’s get back to something far more interesting – ME!

You’ll remember that I sent my Viperz Aspus to Akka to figure out what happened to the spy Pesties – was the latter able to deliver my plague? Did the Akka dwarves have The Grim? Why hadn’t that magical blade come back to me yet?

For more than a year I waited impatiently for Aspus to return to answer these questions.

I’m sure it wasn’t a fun time to be a slave in my kingdom as I ruled over my lands with an iron fist (well technically I ruled with a bone fist but you get the idea). Yet even giving vent to all the evil inside me didn’t help — nothing satisfied me.

I couldn’t enjoy my wine.

Music offered me no comfort (1).

And I didn’t even try to conduct any experiments – for I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate.

Worse yet, my anxiety often kicked in and I spent long weeks just laying in bed looking at the intricately inlaid mosaic of my image on the ceiling of my bedroom. Sadly, I never got any rest because inevitably my eyes wandered to a tiny flaw in the mosaic and that fixation annoyed me to no end. Could I have fixed the imperfection? Of course. But when you’re feeling blue, you just don’t have the desire to do anything – and such was the case for me. So I simply laid there and stared at the flaw in the tiles – knowing it was my own flaw, fearing that all my plans would be for naught – and doing the only thing I had the strength to do – pulling the heavy bear skins closer around my tired bones to ward off the cold as I longed for a sleep that stubbornly refused to come. (2)

At last, in the first month of the 46th Year of the Sixth Age of Substance (3), I finally had reason to smile.

Spring was in the air.

My people were happy because the life-giving rays of the sun warmed even the desolate lands of The Cauldron and I’m sure they were grateful to be able to emerge from the dank caves…and escape my incessant screaming.

Yet the longer days and warmer climes mattered little to me; instead my glee returned when one of my guards brought word that the Viperz Aspus had finally returned!

Anxious for news, and overjoyed that my spy had actually made it back alive, I forced myself to remain calm.

Aspus’ return could only mean one thing, I thought to myself, he’s got intelligence of great import. For surely he knows better than to return to me without something big. By Haaz, but does he actually have The Grim? Could I lay my hands on that blade even today?!?

Giddy with excitement, I smiled at the guard who had brought me the news as I laid a hand on his shoulder, “My friend, bring me the spy’s packs immediately and prep our little friend for milking.”

“Per your wishes, sire.” Said the guard, whose manners and speech made me pause long enough to really notice him. Not only had the man not shrank away at my touch (as most would have done), but he comported himself with the air of a man who was confident (4). That’s when I realized he was a Derkka and not a Vizigob (5) and that he was a ranking officer to boot (6).

“What’s your name, captain?”

The man flung his shoulders back and confidently averred, “Captain Gol, master, always at your service.”

“You have done well, Captain Gol.” I smiled approvingly at his amazingly crisp uniform (7).

Here’s a man that knows how to pay attention to details. I nodded to myself.

And that’s when it hit me. Details. DE-TA-ILS. DETAILS!

“Ah, Captain Gol, I have changed my mind.” My manner grew stern. “Do not have your men bring Aspus to the Milking Rooms. Instead, I think I need a more, ah, thorough review of our returning friend. Therefore ready the spy for a meeting with me in… The Life Labs.”

I could tell I’d surprised the man by the way he flinched – although his involuntary tic was ever so slight, it was enough for me to know that he realized the significance of my words – had I simply milked Apsus for intelligence, the process would have left the spy none the worse for wear, but a visit to the Life Labs – well, we both knew that promised a different outcome altogether.

Seeing the fearful look in the Derk’s eye, I confirmed, “Yes, Captain Gol, what you are thinking in correct. But it must be done.” And with a ominous grin I added, “In fact, the situation requires my utmost attention. Therefore, bring Aspus to me in Room 101.”

“Room …101?” Gulped the Derkka slave lord. “Sire?”

“Yes. Room 1-0-1. But don’t worry, Gol, the delights I have waiting there are for Aspus not you. Unless of course you keep me waiting too long.”

With that Captain Gol raced away – clearly eager to complete his mission.

The torch fires flickered brightly, brushing away the darkness and swathing everything around me in a stark brightness – an evil paradox to the deadly pall emanating from the macabre scene of the room itself. For this was one of my Life Labs – not just any chamber among the group, but the famous Room 101.

Filled with a array of what you’d probably view as cruel looking instruments (8), Room 101 was in fact a state-of-the workshop in which I plied my most important task – that of attempting to unlock the mysteries of Life, The Universe, and Everything. It’s true that this was not the original job Baal-Zebub had tasked me with, but was instead an occupation that I’d taken the liberty to add to my personal life goals – albeit on the down low, for I knew that Lucifer had no desire for me to learn any of the secrets of creation that he thought was his milieu alone (9).

But what Lucifer didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him… or me.

Indeed, the Dark Lord knew nothing about my Life Labs — for the work I did there was a closely guarded secret. Even if I had been foolish enough to want to tell my master about it (and I wasn’t!), I wouldn’t have done it (and I didn’t!) because I well remembered how much Baal-Zebub flipped out when I made the mistake of boasting to him about my success with Necromancy on my most recent visit to Illusia.

Recall that just a century past, Lucifer had summoned me to Illusia seemingly out of the blue (10). When I got that call I knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasure visit; my fear was correct because, as soon as I entered that hell-world, Baal-Zebub was waiting – seething with a mixture of rage and exuberance – and clearly ready for blood…my blood! (11)

“You have failed me for the last time, Azazel!” Lucifer throttled me to the ground before I could even speak.

I tried to ward off Lucifer’s blows as best I could, but they were raining down on me like a maelstrom. Meanwhile Illusia Itself pulsed with the Evil of Zebub’s Spirit in apparent approval of Lucifer’s actions — I took that as another bad sign against me.

At last, when my master took a pause to admire the effect his beating was having on me, I risked peeking up at him – that’s when I saw my doom!

Aghast with fear I realized that Lucifer was preparing to do the unthinkable as he made ready to release the <Power of Ze> upon me – a force I could never hope to withstand!

Unprepared for such an event, I desperately tried to think of something, anything to save myself. “I’ve had a breakthrough!” I screamed from behind raised hands. “The dead are talking to me.”

I don’t know if Baal-Zebub heard me (or even cared), for the Dark Lord still seemed intent on destroying me, however my words affected someone… or rather Something. For Illusia Itself…paused.

Not wanting to miss my chance, I vomited out whatever came to mind. “I’ve discovered how to use the black art of necromancy to corrupt the work of The Deceiver – I can talk to any mortal (12) that’s died upon Durt, I can call back their spirit. That’s the key, don’t you see? I mean, of course you see, for you see everything, right? Anyway, I’ve learned how to talk to them, that’s the point. And this talking is teaching me a great deal.” I was rambling, but I couldn’t stop. “It works especially well when a mortal dies with evil in their blood – for those are the ones that get caught wandering The In Between for all eternity. And they are the key to it all. I mean my necromancy is the key. It’s the key that will–“

“ENOUGH!” Lucifer shouted me down. “Lies! You are nothing but lies, Azazel!” And he again made ready to destroy me.

Yet Zebub didn’t seem to agree with Its son, literally sucking the <Power of Ze> out of Lucifer’s hands and then knocking him to the ground with Unseen Forces (13).

I took that as an endorsement that I should keep talking, however I was careful to help Lucifer save face. “It’s all because of you, my lord.” I lied. “Because you required me to traverse The Stairway of Infinity when I visit your world, I’m constantly reminded of the multitude of dead who are trapped there. For eons, I tried to avoid them, seeing them as a nuisance that only delayed my journey to you, but on my last journey I came to a realization. Surely you’d have seen it long ago, but alas I don’t have your intellect.” Lucifer growled and that let me know I was probably laying it on a bit too thick, so I checked myself. “I changed my perspective and finally understood why the damned tormented me so – they saw ME as a means of escape!”

Lucifer didn’t reply, but he also didn’t yell at me – that’s when I knew I had a bite – so I gave him a bit more line. “And where do the damned want to go?” I asked. “Why here – Illusia – of course. They want to be with you, my lord! But for whatever reason, they’re stuck In Between, forced to eternally wander in that limbo wasteland without any prospect of finding Peace. For Michael won’t let them back into Illyria with the evil in their souls. And misguided travelers that they are, they don’t know the secrets of the wayfare between the planes.”

“How can YOU help them?” Lucifer sneered – yet behind that front I knew he was hanging on my every word, sinking my hook deeper into his psyche.

“The Damned want to be released.” I said calmly, now fully confident that I was free of danger. “They can sense that I know the way. And they are correct. For my necromancy offers them freedom – the freedom to finally find you, my Lord.”

Baal-Zebub now studied me behind veiled lids, “Explain.”

I could feel Illusia pulsating Its approval – already understanding my message, even if Its son did not. With bowed head, I said humbly, “I continue to work my field – ever pursuing the mission you gave me, master. Necromancy is but the next harvest. And when I fully thresh its crop, I’ll better understand the bonds that hold you captive here.” And before Lucifer could feel emasculated by the impotence of his imprisonment, I forged ahead, “The Damned hold that secret! They know!

Great storytellers are like fishermen – they know when they’ve got you – they know when the hook has firmly set and it’s time to real the catch in. That’s where I was with Lucifer and Zebub (14).

“What secret do they know?” Lucifer couldn’t help asking. (15)

“The Great Secret!” I whispered, forcing my so-called master to lean closer to hear my words. “They know how to get back into Illyria!”

“Then why don’t they go?”

“There’s a difference between knowing how to do something and wanting to do it.” I had to force myself not to be condescending as I spoke and I’m not sure it worked, so I fed Lucifer’s ego again. “The Damned don’t want to go to Illyria, they want to come here.”

“Then how does any of this help us?!?” Baal-Zebub’s anger was returning. “If you’re lying ag–“

“Once we acquire The Great Secret – and we will, with the help of my necromancy – then we can use that knowledge ourselves to break the locks that bind you here, rally The Damned to our cause, and then storm the gates of Illyria! Michael will never see us coming – we’ll overwhelm him and then destroy A’H too.”

“Zebub and I will then rule ALL!” Lucifer cackled in delight even as Illusia showcased a beautiful array of colors, lighting up the skies all around us with Its own brand of celebratory fireworks. (16)

Naturally all of this was a big fat lie.

Yet lie or not, it worked to let me live another day.

Sadly, it didn’t get me an immediate release from Illusia liked I’d hoped. Instead, it seemed my lies may have been a bit too good — for not only did Lucifer keep me with him in Illusia for a century (always wanting to know more about The Damned Plan), but in fact he delayed me three years beyond the standard time, chumming it up with me the whole while.

Thankfully, as you know, he eventually released me – sending me on my way with a bevy of well wishes.

When I returned to Terra a few years ago, I was famished to get back to my OWN agenda — for as you surely know, I had zero intention of using MY necromancy to help Lucifer or Zebub. Instead I wanted to acquire that knowledge for myself — so that I could rule from The Seat of Power.

But my success with necromancy is a tale for another time.

Now it’s time to tell you a different story – a far more secret story – a story about what really happened when I blessed someone with a visit to my Life Labs…

Nektar’s Notes

  1. I was known to tickle the ivory a time or two in my day. Yes, the piano is one of my inventions too.
  2. Oh how I shivered on those dark, cold days of insomnia.
  3. Approximately 2475 BC.
  4. Perhaps too confident – but that remains to be seen.
  5. Recall that most of my Vizigob slaves escaped over a century ago. Since that time I’d replaced their ranks with mostly Derkka slaves I’d lured to my lands with promises of riches in this life, and glory beside their god Baal in the next – neither of which I fulfilled. That said, the Derkka were far more intelligent than their Vizigob brethren and quickly took over the highest positions in my kingdom, while I benefited from a more efficient work force.
  6. Not the lackeys the higher ups usually tried to send me – knowing I usually destroyed those who annoyed me and also knowing that everybody annoyed me sooner or later.
  7. The fact that Captain Gol had such a well-cared for uniform was impressive indeed, since just having a uniform that matched was a rare thing among my military slaves (given the meager wages I paid them all). Clearly this man was going places and I put a bookmark in that to pay attention to him. Create win-win relationships – that’s what I always say and if this Gol wanted to be a level jumper AND he could help me get what I wanted, then I was happy to help him too.
  8. Did the gleaming sets of razor sharp, glittering instruments in my lab look frightening? Probably…to an uneducated mind like yours. To mine, and scientists like me through the ages who’ve sacrificed all in order to pursue our dreams, they were the necessary tools of the trade, nothing more.
  9. Even though everything that Lucifer knew came from his father Zebub and the knowledge that the Evil One possessed was flawed at its very core — something the fool Lucifer never realized.
  10. A mere 63 years after my last visit with him – even though I still had a nearly full supply of <hellfire> and should have been free of him for almost a millennia more. And worse yet, causing me to not be able to monitor the situation with Pesties and the plague he carried to Akka – an oversight that foiled my plans! (or at least delayed them).
  11. And the fact that I didn’t have any blood to offer him only made Lucifer even more upset.
  12. That was actually a lie, as you know I couldn’t talk to anyone, but hey, when a guy’s trying to save his skin, any and all embellishments are on the table, right?
  13. Yeah! How do YOU like it when the tables are turned, Lucifer!
  14. And it’s why I knew I was superior to them both. My time will come, I told myself, the cream always rises to the top over time. These fools will get their due in the end.
  15. <click, click, click> Lucifer was always an easy fish to reel in.
  16. And that’s my Big Fish story…
  17. Guess there’s a first time for everything, huh?
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