“Though sometimes I do wonder if death in that square, excruciating and terrible it may be, would have been preferable. At least, my fragile body and worthless soul would have the only price of my folly. Now my hands are irrevocably stained with blood,” Khamet softly said.
“Why were you left alive?”
“A role to play. Have you heard of beaters during the hunt? Men whose job is to flush out prey?”
“Yes, great one, but I have never seen the practice.”
“That was my task. As I lay there, inwardly cursing the fates which led us to this village of ritualistic man-eaters, I discerned a shadow fall upon my prone body. It was the statue. But around us was a curtain of sinister mist. I could see the remaining villagers and their guests fall upon the still live but flayed bodies of my men. Like a pack of hungry hyenas on a wounded animal of the plains. But no sound could I hear from the grisly tumult around us. With sharp and wicked-looking knives, large and small, they cut off pieces from my men. Some ate them raw in dissolute bliss, others sliced parts off and carried them away. And my men remained alive all that time. Finally, a priest came out, tore out their hearts one by one and threw the grisly things into the burning pyre. Thereupon, the entire mob descended on the bodies. The black idol didn’t say anything, content to let me look upon the entire abomination.”
Lumeri was aghast. There was no more feeling of fear or repulsiveness. He was beyond them already. His mind was tottering towards madness. But his body remained calm as ever. He could sense the lack of reaction from it. It was as if his physical manifestation was merely taking down a merchant’s report. But he could see tears glistening on the old man’s cheeks. Inexplicably, he could hear the sound of faint piping in the room. Through snippets of it, he detected a rhythm and music of an unearthly and bone-chilling quality.
“I turned my attention back to the black figure standing at my side. I couldn’t bear the macabre sight of the raw flesh of my men being devoured, and the flesh even became the subject of several tussles and altercations. I found the idol looking at me, a hungry smile on his face. His voice, cold as the winds of the frigid mountains of the Norse and befouled by the corruption of ages, talked to me. He had a task for me – to spread the word about untold riches and artifacts of power in selected hidden places. To entice the greedy, the desperate, and the fearless among the rogues and warriors of the world and feed them to him. A box of maps written on ancient papyri and small golden tokens of proof shall be provided by the monster. He already had in mind the perfect place for my endeavors. Then I lost consciousness. When I came to, I found myself outside the walls of this city, remembering not my name and with a supernatural compulsion to do his will.”
“Were you successful?”
“Hah. Ancient maps, small figurines of gold, the word of a rich and trustworthy merchant. What is there to doubt?”
“Why tell me all this?”
“My time is nearly over. See those tendrils of living darkness? Slowly they advance and now they have almost reached the bed. In a short while, they will cover this bed with their gloom and when they pass, no sign of Khamet the merchant shall you see.”
Lumeri thought he again heard the faint music from a reed pipe in the background. A ghostly and distasteful scent arose in the room. Saccharine and nauseating with strong undertones of sulfur and decaying meat.
“You have my leave to go scribe. A box of gifts and a small sack of gold awaits you at tour house.”
Suddenly, Lumeri found he had recovered control of his legs and mind. With a hasty goodbye, he flew down the stairs, out the door, a bundle of papyri grasped in one hand. Lumeri ran for some distance down the street before recovering his composure. A man running down a road in the middle of the night was sure to invite the attention of the city watch. He brought out a small taper, lit it, and started walking in a leisurely manner in the direction of his house.
After a while, he could swear he could again hear faint piping. An aroma, familiar and repulsive, wafted past his nose. He looked up. The moon, tinged with a ghostly and sickly green hue, looked down on him.
Next Story: Demon Hunter