Tome of the Undergates

Page 30

‘Where are we going, anyway?’

‘There has never been a “we”,’ Gariath growled. ‘There is “I”, who stands, and “you”, who gets in the way.’

‘Right.’ Dreadaeleon nodded. ‘“We.”’

‘“We” would imply that I and you are on the same standing. ’ He turned about, making a spectacle of his toothy grimace. ‘We are not.’

‘In that case, where are you going?’

Just tell him, the dragonman told himself. If he finds out it’s a long way to go, maybe he’ll collapse from the thought of so much effort. Maybe then the tide will come in and drown him. He grinned at that. Then his stink won’t be a nuisance and Lenk won’t have anything to complain about.

‘I’m following a scent,’ he finally told the boy.

‘Food?’ Dreadaeleon asked.




‘Other dragonmen?’

Gariath stopped in his tracks, his back stiffening. Slowly, with a look of violation flashing in his black eyes, he turned to regard Dreadaeleon.

‘You’re using magic on me,’ he snarled, ‘trying to read my thoughts.’

‘Telepathy,’ Dreadaeleon corrected. ‘And I’m not, no. I couldn’t with my headache, at least.’ He beamed a self-satisfied smile that begged all on its own to be cracked open like a nut. ‘I simply used inference.’


‘The act of—’

‘I know what it means.’

‘Ah.’ The boy nodded. ‘Of course. I simply meant that, given the way you seem to be sniffing at the air, there’s only a few things you could possibly be seeking. Common beasts, with their advanced senses of smell, usually only seek food, water or mates.’

‘Clever,’ Gariath grunted. ‘Very clever.’

‘I thought so.’

‘Aside from one fact.’ He held up a single clawed finger. ‘This particular finger is one of five, which belong to one hand of two, which is the exact same number of feet I have, all of which I’ve used to split the skulls of, rip the arms off, smash the ribs of and commit other unpleasantries upon,’ he jabbed the boy, sending him back a step, ‘humans much smaller than you who called me much kinder things than a common beast.’

Dreadaeleon’s eyes went wide with a certain kind of fear that Gariath had seen often in him. With predictable frequency the boy, for he was nothing more than a boy, constantly realised he was not the man he pretended to be. Such a reaction was usually caused by his conversations with the tall, brown-haired human woman or with the taller, red-skinned dragonman. Such reactions, too, frequently had visceral effects.

‘I . . . I didn’t . . . I mean, I don’t want to—’


‘It wasn’t my intention—’ Dreadaeleon shifted his gaze from the dragonman.

Looking at the ground like a whelp.

‘You must believe me—’ The boy’s knees began to knock.

‘I do,’ Gariath interrupted.

Though he hated to admit it to himself, there was a certain gruesome pride that came with making a human soil himself, but such reactions were reserved for times when he wasn’t on the hunt. Human urine was filthy, yellow and filled with the stinks of liquor. He couldn’t imagine a bat-dung drink smelling any better coming out.

The boy’s sigh, so heavy with relief, did not serve to strengthen Gariath’s faith in the human bladder. Rolling his eyes along with his shoulders, he turned about and began to stalk further down the beach.

‘Well, can I help?’

‘There’s a lot of things you can help,’ Gariath growled in reply, ‘such as your belief that I want to hear you any more.’

‘I meant can I help you find whatever it is you’re looking for?’ Dreadaeleon scurried to keep up with the dragonman’s great strides. ‘I’m not bad with scrying.’

‘With what?’

‘Scrying. Divination.’ He beamed so proudly that Gariath could feel the boy’s smile searing his back. ‘You know, the Art of Seeking. Amongst the wizards of the Venarium, it’s not considered worthy of much more beyond a few weeks of study, but it has its uses.’

Gariath paused, his ear-frills twitching slightly.

‘Magic,’ he uttered, ‘can find lost things?’

‘Most lost things, yes.’

When the dragonman turned to face Dreadaeleon, the boy no longer saw Gariath as he remembered him. In the span of a single turn, the red-skinned brute’s face had shifted dramatically. Wrinkles, once seemingly perpetually carved into his face by an equally perpetual rage, had smoothed out. His lips had descended from their high-set snarl to hide his teeth.

Before, Dreadaeleon had never seen anything within his companion’s eyes, so narrow and black had they been. Now they were wide, so wide as to glisten with something other than restrained - or unrestrained - fury, and they stared at him from a finger’s length away.

‘How does it work?’ Gariath growled.

‘Um, well . . .’ The boy struggled for words in the face of this new, slightly less reptilian face. ‘It’s a relatively simple art, which, as I suggested, is what places it so low upon the Hierarchy of Magic.’ He began to count off his skinny fingers. ‘The first of which being the Five Noble Schools: fire, ice, electricity, force and—’

‘Tell me how it works.’

Gariath did not demand, not with any great anger, at least. His tone was so gentle and soft that Dreadaeleon blinked, taken aback.

‘I just need a focus,’ he replied as confidently as he could, ‘something that belonged to the Rhega.’

Gariath’s face twitched. ‘Something that belonged to the Rhega.’

‘Right.’ Dreadaeleon nodded, daring a smile. ‘So long as I have something to focus on, something that bears the Rhega’s signature, it should lead us to more Rhega.’

‘As simple as that?’

‘Just so.’

Dreadaeleon barely had any time to close his eyes before the fist came crashing into his face. His teeth rattled in his skull, chattering against each other like a set of crude ivory chimes. His coat-tails fluttered behind him like dirty brown wings as he sailed through the air before striking the sand, gouging a shallow trench with the force of his skid before finally coming to an undignified halt.

He heard the thunder of Gariath’s footsteps before he felt the thick claws wrap around his throat, hoisting him aloft. His head swam, ringing with the twin cacophonies of his magic headache and the force of Gariath’s blow. Through eyes rolling in their sockets, he could barely make out the great red and white blob before him.

‘There are no more Rhega,’ Gariath snarled. ‘Your breed saw to that.’ His roar was laced with hot, angry breath that would have choked Dreadaeleon had he been able to breathe. ‘And now you want to piss on their memory with your weakling, filthy magic! SIMPLE?’

The boy’s shriek was caught in an explosion of sand as Gariath hurled him to the earth. With the pain echoing through his body in bells of agony, the vicious kick the dragonman planted in his side seemed nothing more than a particularly bloody comma in his furious sentence.

‘There are no more Rhega,’ Gariath repeated, ‘just so.’

The dragonman might well have been a ghost, so faint were his footsteps, so hazy his outline in the wizard’s eyes. Dreadaeleon tried to speak, tried to choke out a query as to what he had done to deserve such a thrashing, an apology of some sort, or perhaps just a plea for help as he felt something growing smaller within him, deflating as air escaped him without returning.

He had no more mind for questions or pleas, however. The dragonman’s shape faded in the distance as he stalked away, his footsteps now silent, as was everything else. The world became numb, all sounds fading before the ringing in his ears.

All but one.

It was faint at first, a slow and gentle lilting of the wind, a voice carried on a stiff breeze that he could not feel. Slowly, it grew louder, searing his ears as it began to drown out the ringing in his head.

So familiar, he was barely able to think, caught between the symphony and chaos murmuring through his brain. I’ve heard it before, I know.

It grew closer and stronger, something between a hum and a purr, escalating to include a faint whistling and breathless gasp. Soon, it began to tinkle, as though it were a gem of sounds being cut into tiny, euphoric crystals.

A song without words, he thought, so pretty . . . so pretty . . .

His body was numb now. It no longer hurt to blink; the fact that he could not breathe no longer worried him. He lost himself in the song, agony forgotten as he listened to the delicate voice.

Ah, I remember now. He nodded weakly to himself. From the boat . . . it’s calling to me again.

And he let himself be called, slipping away into darkness. His vision went blank, eyes closing so that nothing else in the world would matter, not even the shadow creeping over him and the cold, pale hand reaching for him as he lay motionless in the sand.



‘She is speaking so clearly now.’ Had he any nerve left to be shaken, Lenk certainly would have lost his at the near-orgasmic bliss with which the Abysmyth sighed. His courage, however, was long devoured, vanished under the flocks of Omens who gnawed incessantly at the body parts strewn across the ground. They shredded with their teeth, slurped long strings of greasy meat into their inner lips, all the while chattering their graces over the bounteous meal they had been served.

‘We hear Her,’ they chanted between chews, ‘and so are we blessed. We hear Her.’

The Abysmyth, in response, shook its colossal head.

‘But there yet remains no virtue in hearing Her name echoed by the choir.’ Slowly, it fixed two great empty eyes upon Lenk. ‘And you? Do you hear Her, my son? Have your ears been freed?’

‘Don’t answer,’ the voice inside his head uttered, ‘it wants an answer.’

‘Why?’ he barely managed to gasp to his unseen companion.

‘It is an abomination, and like all abominations, it knows it is nothing. It is a preacher, and like all false preachers, it craves validation. It does not belong in this world. It needs a reason to exist.’

‘And we,’ Lenk muttered, ‘are that reason?’

‘No,’ the voice replied, ‘we are the reason it dies today.’

‘You keep saying that, but how? How do we kill it?’

‘As we kill everything else.’

Lenk’s eyes drifted to the armless man dangling from the Abysmyth’s claws, his eyelids flickering, straining to stay open through the pain long enough to mouth his silent plea to Lenk: Kill me, kill me, kill me. His wordless chant was like that of the Omens: repetitive, droning, painful to hear, or to imagine hearing.

‘Can we—’

‘He is lost,’ the voice interrupted callously, ‘he is of no use to us, either.’

‘But we can’t just—’ Lenk attempted to lift a leg to move forwards.

‘We shall.’ He felt it go numb under him.

‘I don’t—’ He tried to tighten his grip on his sword.

‘We do.’ The weapon felt like a lead weight, useless at his side.

‘My son,’ the Abysmyth gurgled with an almost sympathetic inclination, ‘do not fear what your eyes behold today.’ It held up a single, webbed digit and shook it back and forth. ‘For the eyes are what weaken you. Through ears, you shall find your salvation.’

‘No ...’

The word came too softly from Lenk’s lips, his own voice paralysed with fear as he watched the demon’s arm crane up to its dangling captive. It pinched one of the Cragsman’s meaty legs with two massive fingers, rubbing it between the digits thoughtfully.

‘And so do I grant two gifts today,’ it continued, keeping a giant black pupil fixed on Lenk. ‘To you, the deaf, I grant the gift of hearing.’ With a thick, squishing sound, the eye rotated back to the pirate. ‘And to you, the misled, I offer you this gift—’


Lenk spoke louder this time, but without conviction, his voice little more than a tiny pebble hurled from a limp wrist. Such a projectile merely bounced off the Abysmyth’s leathery hide, unheeded, unheard.

‘For no God you claim to know has ever bestowed upon you this quality of wisdom.’ Against the sound of the leg being wrenched free from its socket, the sound of paper ripping, meat splattering, the Cragsman’s shriek was but a whimper. ‘Where are they now, my son? Do they hear you, even as you scream? Even as you beg?’

It shook its head with some grim mockery of despair. It rolled its fingers, twirling the severed limb like a daisy petal before tossing it aside, adding to the Omens’ sun-ripened buffet.

‘They don’t hear you. I hear your suffering, my son, as does Mother Deep.’ Its eyes brightened. ‘Ulbecetonth hears. Ulbecetonth grants you this mercy . . .’

With a gentleness not befitting its great size, the creature’s hand took the man’s head in its palm. It bobbed up and down, weighing the organ as though it were a piece of overripe fruit, pregnant with juices. Then, in the span of a belaboured groan, the creature’s talons tightened over the man’s skull as its jaws parted and uttered a final pair of words.

‘Through me.’

Lenk found not the voice even to squeak at the sight. The creature’s arm jerked, stiffened, sank claws into flesh and dripped thick, viscous ooze from its palm. The slime, like a living thing, swept up with an agonising slowness, seizing the man’s face with grey-green tendrils, seeping into nose, mouth, ears, eyes until all was nothing more than a glob of moist, glistening mucus.

‘Rest, now.’

The Abysmyth laid the Cragsman out before it with an almost reverent delicacy, staring down at the body with eyes that yearned to express pity through their emotionless voids. The ooze, as if in reaction to the demon, pulsed once like a thick, slimy heart before sliding off the man’s face, uninterested, to pool beneath his head.

It was the expression on the man’s face that finally drove Lenk to collapse. He fell to his knees, not with a scream, but a slack jaw and quivering eyes that could not look away from the Cragsman. Dismembered, tortured, drowned, the corpse wore no fear upon his face, no anger nor any mask that the young man had seen upon the face of death.

Upon the undisturbed sand, beneath the shade of a tree swaying with the quiet song of a breeze, the Cragsman stared up at the endless blue sky with closed eyes, a slight smile tugging at his lips.

‘This is the sound I remember,’ the Abysmyth gurgled happily, remorseless, ‘the sound of mercy.’ It ran its massive hand over the man’s face, a sign of benediction from black talons. ‘And to you, my son, She grants the gift of tranquil oblivion, through us, Her children.’

‘Endless is Mother Deep’s mercy,’ the Omens chattered in agreement.


Lenk’s own voice sounded blasphemous in the stillness, echoing against the empty sky. Slowly, he drew himself up from the sand, body rigid and shivering, cloaked by a cold the sun would not turn its eye to.

Such a sound did not go unnoticed. The Omens paused in the midst of their feast, glancing up with bits of pink and black stuck in their teeth, bulbous eyes quivering. The Abysmyth’s great head rose, fixing two white eyes out towards the sand.

Two blue orbs stared back.

‘Mercy is a purpose.’ Lenk could hear the words coming from his mouth, but could not hear them in his head. ‘You have no purpose,’ the last word was forced from his lips like a spear, ‘abomination.’

He took a step forwards and the Omens scattered, white sheets in the wind as they flew up to the safety of the tree. Behind the net of leaves, their spherical eyes peered out, watching, unblinking, horrified.

The Abysmyth had no such reservations.

‘What would a mortal know of purpose?’ It rose up, matching Lenk’s step with a thunderous crash of its webbed foot. ‘A fleeting light in a cold, dark place, quivering and then snuffed for ever, your purpose is only to receive Her infinite mercy.’ It stepped out of the shadow, a blight upon the sky and sand. ‘Your purpose is to hear Her.’

‘Our purpose,’ Lenk felt the urge to pause at that word, but his mouth muttered regardless, ‘begins with you.’ His sword was up and levelled at the beast. ‘Where is the tome?’

‘Tome? TOME?’ The Abysmyth howled, scratching at the side of its head as if pained by the very word. ‘The book is not for you to see, my son! Its knowledge corrupts, condemns! I won’t let you fall to such a fate after all I have suffered for you.’ It stomped again, petulant. ‘I won’t!’

Only when it stepped into the sunlight, a great stain on the world, did the extent of its suffering become clear. Its wounds pulsated with its rage, the sickly green ichor gnawing at its flesh, carving deeper furrows into its skin and baring masses of bleached white bones and innards that resembled beating patches of dark moss.

‘You see,’ it all but cackled as it saw Lenk’s eyes widen, ‘this is the price we paid, we, Her children, for you.’ It shook its head. ‘The longfaces, those purple-skinned deviants, would not listen to us, to HER! They would not listen! We tried to make them, and what was wrought?’ It gestured to its mangled chest. ‘Scorn! Impurities! They cast a disease upon us Shepherds and now you say the flock is already brimming with sickness? I will not accept it!’

The creature’s roar echoed in Lenk’s ears, the same word repeating itself in his head: We, we, we. There were more of them, more Abysmyths, more cursed creatures with sharp teeth and glistening ooze.

He felt he should have been terrified by such words. He felt he should run, seek the others and flee the island. Such thoughts were small candlelights in his head, choked out and extinguished by the voice that quieted the demon’s howl with its echoing presence.

‘You don’t belong here,’ it spoke through him, ‘you were cast out, sent to hell.’

The creature grinned. It did not merely appear to grin, nor did Lenk imagine it grinning. Such an expression seemed painful, the edges of its face cracking, the corners of its lipless mouth splitting with the effort. Still, the demon grinned and spoke.

‘We’re coming back.’

And then the grin vanished. Lenk stared into a vast, black face dominated by expressionless eyes. The creature tilted its head to the right, as though regarding him for the first time.

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