Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Merle the Dead Part 2 - Merle's Account of His Awakening

I dreamt a still deeper sleep

An Ygal aren't a monster like other demons; it's a monster like a man. More's the peril, see. They're reeky things most times, but might put on a fair fragrance if a man meets one in the right mood. Two Ygals can damn near converse just by reeking. I'm not privy to how many of the beasts Loethe had familiar. More than I, for fact. I only prop'ly could introduce the one.

The Ygal I knew, we met under a rotten circumstance. I was dead and he had a contract, namely my body. I surmise my wakening must have set a fair jump in him; me hardly full of his preserving sauce, him with the needle not even out of my arm.

I marked him for but a largish man at first, my eyes not yet set to the pitch. A soupy pitch it was, too, all smoky with lit incense.

“Say man, what died in this darkness? And match a lantern for God's sake, I can't see a damn thing. Or open a door at the least.”

The long shape of him stood very quiet in the haze and pitch. His odor fought through the incense and stung at my sinus. I had a gauzy recollection of having drunk a few yards and figured I'd gotten myself tossed in the local constabulary. I called him again:

“Sir, you've got something rotting in here, what is it?” I said.

Ygala can speak any man's language, provided they've learned it. The words seem to rattle out of their mouths, though. The accent is unmistakable to man that's heard it, like an escaping steam of consonants, and when I heard him hiss at me a powerful shiver took me. I hadn't yet deduced my passing, but I began to suspect it's imminence.

He said something that sounded like, “You sir, are rrroting in here.”

“That's got the ken of jibe, Ygal. I get the notion one of us has found ourself, or itself, in the wrong spot.”

I spotted the Ygal through the haze as it moved towards a window, a faint glow of dawn sheening from it. The Ygal flung the window open with a sharp flip of it's long fingers.

“Both in the right spot. But you are in the wrong state, sir.”

The haze of incense began to creep out the window. The details of the room started to grow out of the smoke. Shelves poked out of the walls, holding up a circus of bulbous jars. A tray of nasty looking knives and clamps perched by my side. The Ygal lowered itself into a great wooden rocker chair.

I searched the room for the closest door and tried to keep a flat temper.

“Eh? Knocked out on your table for a day? And what's this cutlery, here? Eating the locals won't keep a good peace with the village, Ygal. They'll come for me.” I leaned towards the Ygal, still searching out a door. “They'll come for you, too.”

The Ygal rocked few ticks in his chair before answering.

“Perhaps if I put it more specifically” it said. “You are deceased. The tools you see before you I have only just used to preserve your body. This is my mortuary. Is this clear, now?”

I sat dumb and dumbfounded. I had somehow gotten myself into the house of an Ygal; a daft Ygal, on the top of it. I raised my dead body from the table, stepped a few ticks of a jig and bowed to the beast in the chair.

“Can the dead dance?”

The Ygal considered a moment.

“It would seem so, yes.”

“By my eyes, beast, I'm not dead!”

“Your heart no longer beats, sir. It hasn't for over a day. This is very shocking for me, also. Please, sit down and let's consider this.”

I thumped my paw over my heart with a bard's flourish. I started the first line of a lover's ode I'd learned as a chit. I made not even the first verse when I noticed: my heart, so often set aflutter by the ode, was not aflutter nor even a-sputter.

“And yet beats on my... my God! What have you done to my heart, fiend!”

My chest felt cold under my chest and, as the Ygal had noted, my heart did not beat even once. The Ygal hardly regarded me; one long-fingered hand propped up it's green head, the other reached absently for a jar and doled it over to me. A leathery red thing floated in it, like a plum in a vatlet of pickling sauce.

“What's this, then?”

My Heart in a Jar to Keep

The pair of us set down for a long time, hours by the Sun's arc's telling. Some sorcery had gotten my heart pickled, sitting in a jar by my nearly final resting place. I pondered my question, he pondered his, and after these hours I asked him.

“You've done this spell, Ygal, so no dispute of 'who'. That leaves us 'why?', also 'what else, eh?”

“'How?', perhaps sir?”

“How to lay a man down then sit him back up? Not a spot on my worried thoughts, devil. Now 'How to kill a devil?'... I might find some interest in that shortly.”

The Ygal flapped it's head aside. It thumbed a knob on its face. Some swarm of possibilities buzzed in its rot brain, no doubt. I snatched up the meanest-looked of the sharp nasties on the tray and bore further towards the beast.

“See, devil, my heart had fraught a lump of woe upon first sighting you. Now it's in that jar, over there.” I shook an eye towards the jar. “I think the odds are turned a bit now, me being dead, you being unarmed.”

“Yes. It is the problem I've been considering.”

“So let's get on with the first matter. Why?”

“There's no reasonable explanation.”

“None too satisfying a reply.” I menaced the knife in its face. “You ought mull on this, demon, while I'm making bits of you: the sooner I get the right score from you, the less bits I'll make of you, and the sooner I'll finish. I put it again, what's the meaning of your mayombe on my poor soul, eh?”

“I can't lie, sir.”

“That's all you've done, monster! Out with it now.”

“There's no reason...”

“This is the last odds you'll get.” I carved a button off its shirt, pressing the flat end of the blade against its chest.

“...that I should do this to you. No reason at all, sir.”

I got no hint of fear from the words gurgling out of it's mouth, but I sensed a powerful tremble through the handle of the scalpel. I faced it full in the eye, it's cat-eyes darted around. I took one of its big shoulders in my off hand and pressed the knife a bare slice into its chest. Something hot oozed onto my hand. It gurgled something in it's own tongue, prayer-soft. That was the moment it knew, and I knew, it was going to die.

Its eyes fixed on mine, full of stillness, and out of the beast rose a reek I cannot now recall, or forget. A gorgeous reek; not a reek at all, but a communication from every pore of the thing to every pore of mine. There's no proper account of it anywhere. When I die I might understand. I couldn't, at that moment, conceive an evil thing. I stayed my hand. I backed away from the Ygal, and the scent was off it as sudden as it rose.

I wiped his gush off my blade with my trousers.

“Ygal, you swear you haven't worked this mayombe on me?”

His voice held no trace of emotion.

“I swear, sir.”

“I've set myself on believing you, Ygal, for a while. Tell me something else.”


“Where the hell are we?”

“10 marks from the Hegemon, sir.”

“The Hegemon? That's weeks from my hamlet, even on the road.”

“Then I should say you arrived in remarkable condition. You'd only been dead a few hours by my reckoning.”

“I must have pulled a right woolly drunk on to end up dead 10 marks from the Hegemon.”

I put the scalpel back on the tray. Whatever answers there were to be had weren't odds-on to be found in the Hegemon. Nothing's ought to be found in the Hegemon, it's a place to be lost. I sat down and put on my best kind regard for the Ygal, considering I'd been moments from his executioner.

“I might have your name, Ygal.”

“Borthas, sir. Very close to that in your language, at least.”

“And I might also have the name of the party whose shell bought my embalming.”

“Your wife.”

“Never had one. Who was this person claiming matrimonial relations with me?”

Borthas rocked in his chair a few times, his thumb working on a knob under his lip. He raised out of the chair quietly and went to a desk, pulling a slip from a drawer then handing it to me.

He said, “It to difficult to pronounce. it is written on this bill of sale, however.”

The slip had a contract neatly penned on it, with two signatures at the bottom.

"The body of Hiram Killian is placed in the custody of Borthas the Ygal until such time as it should be placed in the ground. Signed and agreed:
Borthas the Ygal
Fatima Black"

“A little irreverent isn't it, Borthas?”

“She insisted on the language, sir. I couldn't imagine you would mind.”

“Hmmm. I've never heard the name. Fatima Black. Fatima. Fatima. Black. Black. Nothing. For the like of it, Hiram Killian is a new one, too.”

“She'll return for the body, sir... for you.”

“Ha. Yes, I suppose I'll set a few hairs gray on her when she does.”

“Perhaps not. She seems a likely culprit for this... obscenity against nature.”

Such a ken of woe hit me that I nearly dropped to me knees. To be called an obscenity of nature by an Ygal! And alas on top of woe, for the Ygal to be right. But I had spent the hours before almost scotching Borthas, and scotching him bloody, setting my woe to anger, and my anger to resolve. Borthas's slur had jarred me, but only enough to set the stone in me harder. I gritted my teeth and walked to the door.

“Borthas, pray to what gods the Ygal worship you have not deceived me. I haven't the notion of what web this widow has spun, but intend to unravel it. If I find your scent in one of its threads I'll return to this place, and I'll kill you as dead as I stand here. Which which road do I follow to Hegemon?”

Not that I had any mind to visit the fair capital, I merely needed a sense of which road not to walk, and which road to let Borthas guess I would. Borthas considered for a long tick before answering, now rubbing a knob on his temple.

“This has put me in an ethical dilemna, sir.”

“For god's sake, Ygal, what further injury would you add to this insult? I won't wait a knot longer for this Fatima to arrive and reclaim me. Quickly, which road?”

“The language in the contract was very specific. You are not, I'm afraid, in the ground. You are still my charge, sir.”

“An Ygal would be an odd travelling companion. I should say the fair citizens of Hegemon might take exception.”

“It is unfortunate, yes. We'll have to take caution.”

“There's no contract, Borthas, I'm not dead.”

Borthas merely sent an eye to the jars on his shelf, presumably my with my guts afloat in them.

“I merely meant I'm UNdead, Borthas.”

“I cannot break a contract, sir. It is completely counter to my ethics.”

“Creation!What's the difference, Borthas, you end up in hell either way. You're a demon.”

Something I got a hang on about Ygala very quickly was that you could smell their temper easier than you could see it on their faces. Borthas face grimaced a mote, hardly enough to differ it, but a hateful stench filled that room. Worse even than the everyday stench of an Ygal. His voiced sounded no angrier than the snarling cacophony of an Ygal's accent ever sounded, though.
“Even as such, I should like to spend my time on this paradise with honor, sir. Something else occurs to me, it may even interest you to know.”

“How about it?”

“Your tissue is dead, sir. It is seemingly animated by mystical means, and it is preserved as best I could manage, but it is dead yet. You might find my expertise practical. You might also find that a wealthy Ygal will be better received in the Hegemon than a penniless dead man.”

So my choice was set for me. I nodded. Borthas's intolerable scent subsided to a bare nauseating.
He said simply, “I must gather a few balms,” and began stuffing some unknown vials and flasks and instruments in a gunny. I leaned against the door and narrowed my eyes at the land outside the window.

“We're not going to the Hegemon.”

“We might as well, sir. It's the last place I'd expected you'd go, Mrs. Black would just as likely deduce the same as not.”

“Could be. I'll give that a quick ponder, you give that gunny a quick pack.”

“It's leather, sir.”

“Sir. Heh. I like it, but you never asked my name.”

“It is against our customs, sir.”

His lips curled up a hint, revealing a row of needly overbite. It might have been a smile, but he smelled as bad as ordinary. I could have left him there, then he could've followed anyway. I had a notion of better odds if the beast traveled at my side than behind me.

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