Location: Nektar’s Cauldron
Timeline: Sixth Age of Substance, 46th Year, Spring
The bones of my hands trembled with a mixture of excitement and desperation (1), as I unwound the cord that held the gutskin covering bound to the top of Aspus’ fourth (and final) Reconnaissance Jar.
Listening to the spy’s words from the first three vessels had given me a wealth of information.
- I’d heard that Akka had been decimated by a plague at some point in the past – the halls of that mountain kingdom now ringing hollow and empty.
- I learned about a number of new human settlements in the region – all ruled by a merchant who lived in a city called Fubar and claimed the title of Lord of Orkney – I bookmarked him as someone to take advantage of in the near future.
- And listened with glee to Aspus’ tale of successfully entering Akka, discovering the fate of Pesties (death), and about Aspus’ success in returning with a few of the former Viperz’ bones. (2)
It’s true that, in reviewing three jars so far, I hadn’t learned anything about The Grim – but I continually reminded myself that finding that blade wasn’t part of Aspus’ mission. And yet, even still, I couldn’t help holding out hope for some news on that topic.
Sadly for me, the fourth Jar proved to be the most frustrating of all. For, as the green viscosity slowly dissipated in the process of revealing Aspus’ final tale to me, I never got what I really wanted. Sure, I learned more about the state of affairs of Akka and the deadly pall that now comprised the entirety of that kingdom’s silent existence, but Aspus was forever silent on The Grim. As the spy’s last words flowed forth from the milking vessel – Aspus merely talked about his return journey to The Cauldron and the praise he hoped to receive from me for his successful mission.
<Crash!> I threw the jar to the stone floor, smashing it in anger.
<Smash! Boom! Pow!> I demolished the other pots also.
“Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!” I raged. “I still do not have that which I most desire! That which I deserve! Where is The Grim!?!
“<SHREEEEEEEEIIIIIIIKKKKK>!!!” I let forth a tormented screech that was so high pitched and violent, it destroyed all the remaining objects in the room – tables and tubes, chests and crates, all and everything blew up (3) – the debris exploding in a whirlwind throughout the room. Shrapnel flew in all directions – scaring the walls and floors – and much of it struck me too – yet while my black robes took a tear or three, I personally suffered no ill effects (4) – in fact, I barely even noticed the marks.
But inside I was suffering.
“Why do I torture myself so?” I gasped, as if struggling for breath (5). “Why can’t I just be happy with things as they are without trying to change them? You never hear about Gwar complaining about his lack of knowledge. And Inanna doesn’t seem to care about all the scheming I do behind her back. So why should I put so much effort into things. What’s it all for?”
Suddenly exhausted by it all, I slumped to the floor, feeling broken and defeated.
After a time, who can say how long, I picked myself up, and sagging shoulders and all, made my way back to Room 101 – all the while lamenting that I would never find anything useful that could lead me to my long sought after prize.
In a rather rotten mood, I cracked open the door to The Lab that held Aspus, and poked my head through the opening, pulling back my hood to reveal the full vulgarity of my ghastly skull. “Did you miss me, child?”
I’ll admit that what followed next was the unspeakable defilement and plundering of loyal Aspus’s body and soul – an “extraction process” that I used to ensure that my spy was indeed telling me all that he knew, consciously or subconsciously. Unfortunately for Aspus, because of my foul mood, I was perhaps a bit more aggressive with his extraction than I intended (6), and looking back now I may have done things differently if I had the chance for a redo.
But, like I always say – each of us has a part to play in this Great Play of Life and Aspus was now performing his big scene.
You’re wondering – was Aspus still alive? Very much so.
The milking process I put him through earlier – while painful – did no long-term damage to him and was a normal course of a Viperz life. But what was about to happen to him in the Life Lab was a far different story as as Aspus, now in human form again, looked up at me, we both knew there would be no return from what was about to happen to him.
“There is nothing to fear but fear itself, my friend.” I soothed the man as I approached. “Take pleasure in knowing that your name will be written in the stars.”
Now someone like yourself (7) would probably have the mindset that Aspus would have been better off had never been born than to suffer the torment he did from me in Room 101 – for I should probably tell you that I kept Aspus alive during the entire experiment. Yet, lest you think I this merely because I was evil, think again. Keeping the Viperz alive was in fact a critical requirement of the “extraction process” — I needed the snakeman to be capable of feeling intense pain (and intense pleasure) throughout the operation — for the greater the force of the pleasure/pain trigger I could inflict upon him, the more substantial the knowledge I could garner from his <life-essence>.
The ability to balance my subject’s life upon the razor’s edge of my experiment required the full of my attention – for a single slip of the scalpel would mean death for Aspus and the loss of knowledge for me.
Gone was the fragile psyche I felt while listening to the Reconnaissance Jars; my mind no longer pitying itself and instead fully concentrating with the unemotional studiousness of the mad scientist that I knew I was.
I feel so alive! I smiled as I relished the joys ahead, making my first cut into Aspus’ temple.
Very early on I learned that Aspus had apparently located a diary of some kind from one of the Drrukka leaders. That was exciting news – because it hadn’t come up during the milking – yet when I took a quick break to look through the Viperz’ packs, I was unable to locate such a book. With Aspus’s life so delicately balanced, I had to delegate the task to Captain Gol and his men.
Meanwhile, I returned to my experiment – determined to extract every ounce of intelligence from Aspus’s cells so that I could discover more about this new mystery.
Three days had now passed in the tedious operation and yet I ‘d learned nothing new.
Aspus’ body was now fully exposed on the steel table before me. Most of his skin had been carefully flayed and I’d removed over 90% of his muscle and bone. All that remained of the snakeman was a network of organs and blood vessels – which the genius that I was kept alive by a process far too complicated for you to ever hope to understand.
<Phooooo.> A small amount of air puffed out of the venous major as I reopened that passageway – intending to explore it once more. Hunched over, I was concentrating hard on my next incision – trying to place it at just the precise angle so as to maximize the extraction – yet just as I was about to make the cut…
<Tap. Tap. Tap.> Came a faint rap on the door – the unexpected sound causing my hand to slip ever so slightly, yet enough to make me miss ,my mark, and instead slice fully across Aspus’ main artery!
I watched in horror as the precious few drops of blood that were sustaining the Viperz weakly dripped out onto the work table, and then the snakeman’s circulatory system failed – giving my subject the ability to finally escape my terrible touch!
Thus did Aspus die.
“What? Nooooo!” I couldn’t believe what happened and I looked towards the door for an answer.
With the osteel bones of my skull and hands dripping with the same blood that covered my robes, I’m sure I wasn’t a pretty sight when I slammed open the door to Room 101, looking for answers.
Catpain Gol was standing there, trying to be appear dutiful but clearly scared out of his wits. Cowering in fear behind him were a handful of his men, their rusty armor clanking as they shuffled nervously around.
“You!” I seethed, grabbing Gol by his neck, lifting the commander clear off the ground, as his men back away in fear. “How dare you interrupt my work!”
“Grggle, grrg-“ Captain Gol coughed, trying to eek out a reply.“Rrrch. Arrw.” And he desperately held up something in his hands.
I the man violently down <CRACK! SNAP!> and Captain Gol’s right arm broke in multiple spots, while the item he was holding fell from his hand.
Reaching down to see what my servant dropped, I picked up a badly burned and waterlogged book.
“What is this!” I yelled at Captain Gol. “What happened to it!”
“Ugh. Ooooh.” The man couldn’t get the words, as the pain of his fractured arm overwhelmed him. (8)
“Speak! I command you!”
“I’m sorry, She-, Shedu Mezai.” Captain Gol gasped. Then forcing himself to stand, I couldn’t help but me (mildly) impressed as the man exhibited courage in front of his men (all of whom were still standing far behind him). Once erect, Captain Gol adjusted his helmet with his good harm and explained through ragged breath, “Master, I did not… know it at the time, but this… book was also among your… spy’s belongings.”
“Why did you not give it to me with the rest of his items? And what happened to it?!”
Here, Gol’s backbone must have finally failed him as fear got the best of him. He cowered, taking a few steps backwards to rejoin the ranks of his crew, yet those men didn’t help him, and instead pushed their commander forward again. Stumbling to maintain his balance and not knock into him, Captain Gol squeaked, “It seems…well, it appears that…some of my men…got hold of it before they handed the Viperz over to me.”
“And?” I demanded – for it was obvious that there was more to the tale.
“And, well,” hesitated the commander, before blurting out the entire story, apparently forgetting the pain in his arm. “Just recently I caught the vermin playing Bones with the book as the prize! Krag disagreed with Mak’s cast and there was a fight. Krag ripped the journal from Mak and threw it into the barrelpit blaze so that nobody would win. Some of the pages got burned before I could pull it out and throw water on it.” Then, standing ramrod straight again, “But, don’t worry, Sire. I taught my men a lesson they won’t forget – I threw the insubordinants into the fire themselves!” Here Captain Gol smiled proudly. “See, you can count on me!”
At this point, the rest of the men in the company stood a little straighter and moved forward to stand closer to their leader – trying to share in his limelight.
I merely sneered in response, causing the men to lose their collective courage yet again.
But then my visage softened, and as I gingerly held the book aloft, I looked Captain Gol in the eyes. “What a great leader you are, Captain Gol. You have indeed done well. Please, accept my thanks.” Then, to the guards at the captain’s back. “You there, take this pitiful excuse for a commander away! Ready him for another Lab room – I think he should be rewarded with a new concoction I have been working on.” Then, to the forsaken leader, “Yes, my dear Captain Gol, prepare yourself. For you will be the first lucky test subject to receive my…Formula 409! A cleaner that can take care of any mess – even the one you made!”
- And no I’m not too proud that I can’t admit that.
- Unraveling one riddle that I had tagged for follow-up back in Room 101.
- Now that’s power, huh?
- For I was still very much filled with Baal-Zebub’s hellfire and thus quite immortal.
- Even though I didn’t actually need to breathe to survive.
- To the outside observer what I did to the Viperz could only be described as a bloody and ruthless rape of his very existence.
- Who can’t see the Big Picture and isn’t able to appreciate the Journey of Discovery I was ever on.
- Given that I could see bone peeking out through multiple breaks in his skin, I guess that’s understandable.