The Murloc is Lonely
Book Two: The Emerald Queen
Dathrohan marched out the wide chapel doors into the pools of electric lamp-light beyond, and I padded down the length of the abandoned nave. There were shouts coming from outside, from far across the Monastery grounds – commands to get under cover, out of sight, to the ship – and I paused at the top of the chapel’s wide steps. Dathrohan disappeared down the stairs which flanked the fountain. Beyond him, there was a great crash, and a chunk of the Monastery’s distant wall crumbled to rubble.
The chapel gardens were empty now, and I trotted quickly to the stairs. Dathrohan was striding across the lower gardens, the book having disappeared into some fold of his white and red robes.
As I reached the lower garden, a terrific and familiar screech tore the air, and I instinctively dove for cover – the nearest bush – and a bone dragon swooped down from the moonlit night sky into the lamp-light, its enormous bone wings and tendons of evil green magic brushing the gardens’ bushes and trees. Then it was gone into the dark sky.
Dathrohan had ducked at the attack, but he had not panicked, and now he stood straight up again. He marched forward toward the low building at the gardens’ far edge – the vestibule through which we had entered the Monastery. I padded carefully after him, watching the sky over my cat shoulder. I jumped as another crash echoed and another chunk of the Monastery’s wall disintegrated. The world outside the Monastery was deathly silent, but my fevered imagination conjured up the image of ranks and ranks of silent skeletons and zombies, clad in the Scourge’s uniform black armor, eyes glowing, stretching to the horizon. Zombie armies wouldn’t shout, I thought.
Without warning, the bone dragon was back, swooping down out of the sky, and in panic I leapt behind another bush. The ground beneath me shook as the dragon landed in front of the Cardinal. I peered out from behind my sanctuary bush in time to see blindingly bright shadow magic whirling about Dathrohan’s fists, but the wyrm’s long neck lashed out and its jaws snapped. Dathrohan stumbled backwards, the shadow gone from about his hands, but he righted himself quickly. He fired a skull-shaped bolt of shadow magic at the dragon, but it passed harmlessly between its bones and splashed off the stone wall behind it.
The wyrm lashed forward again, its broad bone snout catching the Cardinal across the chest, and his body rag-dolled into the air, missing the great fountain by feet, landing at the base of the great statue which loomed over the gardens’ far end. The dragon reared back, and, against all logic, appeared to inhale – then from between its fearsome teeth issued a blast of sickly green gas. The bushes between the beast and the man withered to gray husks, and with a jolt I recognized the poison plague gas which had destroyed Norin’s tomatoes at Uther’s Tomb. I shrank back as it clogged the air across the gardens.
Dathrohan, though, by some magic or miracle, strode out of the deadly gas and, his hands glowing with blindingly powerful negative light, faced the dragon down. “I know you can see me,” he muttered, “or is it your ill-bred son controlling this machination?”
The beast hesitated, and in that instant, Dathrohan, a pinprick of bluish-green light sparking to life for an instant in the depths of his eyes, brought his hands together and fired. With a blinding flash and a crack like thunder, the dragon’s skull blasted free of its vertebrae and arced through the air. It landed with a thump and rolled, coming to a rest against the bush behind which I cowered. The skull’s jaw was out of joint, and its eye sockets were dark. I stared at it, my hackles prickled.
The dragon’s headless body lurched and took off into the dark sky. You don’t kill bone wyrms, came Ordinn’s words to me from what seemed like ages ago in the safety of Under City. They kill you. This one had apparently survived its beheading, but Dathrohan had survived, too – and aside from a tear in his robes as he walked again towards the Monastery’s vestibule, he looked none the worse for wear. I grinned, and with a bit of a shock I realized that I’d been rooting for him. He killed Fang!, cried a part of my mind, but another answered, at least he’s keeping the book safe from Varimathras, right?
The library rose behind me, and the chapel rose above the gardens to the right, and Dathrohan disappeared into the vestibule. The green gas was creeping across the grass towards me, withering everything living that it touched. I slunk towards the vestibule, towards another door – the one through which Fang and I had exited previously. Shifting back into a shape with thumbs long enough to pull open the door, I slipped quietly in.
I padded down the stained-glass hallway and into the vestibule, and caught a chill wind across my sensitive nose - I looked to my left, and at the low room's end, in place of its low stone wall, there was a gaping hole. I stared at it with pointed unease, then, as my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, with growing terror: beyond the gap, across the gulch through which Fang and I had approached the Monastery, glittered ranks and ranks of glowing yellow eyes, a perfect army, rigid in the dim moonlight, unthinkingly awaiting their orders. I shuddered.
Hushed voices drifted from the vestibule's other end, and I ducked hurriedly behind a column. Dathrohan stood at the door through which he'd entered, in a hurried, close-heads conversation with an out of breath abbot. “The front gate had been left unlocked, and Jeffries and Quentin were hurrying down to secure it when the catapults knocked the wall down atop them. We assume them dead.”
“Rest their souls,” said Dathrohan quietly, “but I'm glad that the evil creatures collapsed our weakest point: otherwise, we'd all be dead.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the other man, bowing. “Our ship,” he continued, “is mercifully untouched - the enemy arrived from the south and west, to avoid detection, and so they seem to have entirely missed our evacuation.”
“Again: small favors,” said the Cardinal, “that we may yet survive to see Storm City and the final days of the Chaos Line. How many are missing?”
“I – I'm not sure –“ stumbled the abbot, and then pulled himself together: “I haven't seen Cardinal Prestor or Cardinal Doan, sir. I believe all the abbots who remained and are alive are on board.”
“And are alive,” spat Dathrohan. “Curse this evil army and the demon which lords over it,” and even though I agreed with the words he spoke, the vitriol with which he spoke them chilled me.
“Go,” he commanded, “tell the ship to sail farther out to avoid the wyrms, and wait for Prestor and Doan. I’ll find them and send them to the ship, and I’ll follow after – if I survive the cloud of evil which has gathered over us,” and he bowed his head in a moment of silent prayer. The abbot, his eyes wide at his master's piety, bowed, backing away, then ran off towards the ship and safety.
The door to the gardens banged open, and the tall, black-haired Cardinal Prestor strode in. “There is a skull in the gardens,” the man rumbled. “Your doing, by chance? If I know anything about dragons, that was a lucky blow for a man to land.”
Dathrohan nodded. “Luck favors the powerful, my friend. We mortals can wield magic and wisdom far beyond our years, as you know well.”
Prestor watched the other man for a moment, eyes narrowed. Then, “Your gambit with the nonexistent book failed,” he said simply.
“I disagree,” Dathrohan replied readily. “That we were nearly evacuated before the Scourge attacked speaks to its success.”
“That the Scourge attacked us at all, when we aided Hannathras – as good as gave him his father back – when they have to date left the rest of the northlands untouched – speaks to your spectacular miscalculation,” returned Prestor. “We had a powerful ally.”
“Ally?” hissed Dathrohan, and he was suddenly quivering with hatred. “I will not see the Resurrection ally itself with demons and unliving abominations. The Chaos Line says to effect the release of Varimathras, and so we have done, but we will not ally ourselves with them,” he spat. “It worries me that you would consider it.”
Prestor narrowed his dark eyes at the other man. “You speak as though we didn’t host Hannathras in our caverns.”
Dathrohan sighed. “Forgive me, Daval. Of course we live in a world with shades of gray.”
Prestor nodded. “Keeping the Monastery a secret from him while he was here was prescient,” he said, and his voice’s hard edge softened for a moment. “We were poor allies, after all.”
The two stood quietly for a moment. Then, “Doan is still missing,” Dathrohan said. “I intend to find him. Go to the ship. I’ll see you there.”
Prestor bowed his head and stepped backwards towards the door through which the abbot had disappeared moments earlier. “Good luck,” he rumbled, and then he was gone.
“Luck favors the prepared,” muttered Dathrohan into the darkness.
Then he was striding towards my column, and then past me and out the door through which I'd entered. I padded after him down the stained-glass hallway and out into the courtyard. He marched across it, and I slunk after him.
He pushed open the wide doors and slipped into the dark library. I sprinted – foregoing stealth for a moment to get to the doors before they closed, praying Dathrohan wasn’t looking back at them as I slipped into the library. He wasn’t: He was walking purposefully through the high stone archways between the library’s long, high rooms. I padded silently along, parallel to him down the library’s far rank of archways – through three, to where Fang and I had listened in to the meeting of the Cardinals, then through a fourth into the room with its long, thick, wooden table, where that meeting had taken place, then through a fifth and a sixth.
Instead of two archways set off at the far ends of the long room, as the others had had, this room continued on with a single archway, centered along its length, and a line of stained-glass windows stood above the bookshelves. This was the library’s last room.
At the room’s center stood the man I recognized as Cardinal Doan. He was staring up at his books, looking forlorn.
“I'll miss them,” he said quietly, without greeting.
“This isn't goodbye, though, is it?” said Dathrohan sternly. “Our enemy will not defile these mysteries.”
Cardinal Doan nodded silently, but his eyes stayed locked on his books.
“You should go,” the other man commanded. “Our ship is sailing.”
Doan nodded again, and then, as though suddenly making up his mind after a long struggle, he reached out and plucked a book from the shelf. He nodded to Dathrohan, and then vanished, back towards the library's distant entrance.
Dathrohan turned and disappeared into the lone archway along the room’s far wall, and I padded to it. Two half-arch wooden doors stood open, and there was a short, dark stone corridor. Beyond it, I could see a round room, lined with bookshelves, a red carpet covering the floor. Cardinal Dathrohan was staring up at the ceiling, his eyes narrowed to slits, and I froze at the corridor’s mouth. Moonlight streamed in through what must have been a glass ceiling, and patterns played across his face.
He stood there for quiet minutes. A shadow passed across the moonlit floor – the headless bone wyrm patrolling the skies, perhaps – and a distant rumble echoed as another of the Scourge’s catapults battered the Monastery’s walls.
Dathrohan braced himself, and another shadow fell across the room, this one growing, shadow wings swooping, and then with a crash the ceiling shattered inward, shards of glass cascading down across the stolid Cardinal.
With a solid thump on the carpeted stone floor and a crunch of broken glass, the Dread Lord Varimathras landed.
“Hello, brother,” said the Cardinal quietly. Huh? I thought.
Varimathras stared in shock. “You,” he whispered, and for a moment the voice of this towering monster shook with something like fear. He mastered it quickly.
“You of course knew I survived,” said Dathrohan. “Why the shock?” Something about his voice had changed - as though all of the pleasantries he'd put on for Fang, and for Prestor and Doan and the rest of the Cardinals, had all been an act. The steely edge it had had when he'd killed Fang in cold blood was now all that was left.
Varimathras nodded to himself. “Dathrohan’s the name, isn’t it? I had no idea it was still you pulling the strings of this absurd little cult.”
“Absurd!” laughed the Cardinal. “Hardly. It’s far more serious than anyone thinks, and there are those that take us quite seriously.”
“So I’ve heard,” rumbled the Dread Lord.
There was a pause. “I hear I have a nephew,” said Dathrohan, “and a bastard at that.” He shook his head. “You bred with a local?”
“It was a political maneuver,” replied the demon icily, “and the maneuver was successful. As for its issue, I could not ask for a better lieutenant.”
“Careful, Varimathras. That sounds dangerously like affection.”
“Enough small talk,” growled the demon. “You know what I’m here for.”
Dathrohan nodded. “And you knew that we would destroy it if you attacked.”
“I hope you haven’t,” bristled Varimathras.
“Or what? You’d ransack my Monastery?” mocked the man, diminutive next to the towering Dread Lord. I shook my head and wondered at the source of his mettle.
“I killed you once,” growled Varimathras.
“It didn’t take,” growled Dathrohan in return. “Pray I’ve forgiven you.”
The two mismatched adversaries stared each other down.
Varimathras blinked. “The spell-book,” he said, and his voice was weary now. “Did you actually have it?”
“Yes,” replied the other.
“And did you actually destroy it?”
“No,” replied the other, and then after a beat he produced it. Varimathras leaned forward hungrily.
“It’s missing pages,” said Dathrohan, pulling it back, “and it’s certainly a transcript, not the original book, but it should do the trick. The scepter of which it speaks,” and he pulled it back again from Varimathras’ clutching claws, “has been lost, but I don’t believe that it’s been destroyed. The tree,” and he withheld the book a third time, “is the Crown of the Heavens, whose guardians, lucky for you, sacrificed themselves to destroy our late commander.”
He held the book out at last. Varimathras snatched it from his hand. My heart sank in my chest.
The demon opened it up with a gesture, and pages turned themselves as though by a wind. Then the Dread Lord snapped it shut and inhaled deeply, then let it out, as though some great worry had lifted from his broad frame.
“Why haven’t you used it?” he said quietly.
“I have other plans,” replied Dathrohan.
“Then why give it to me?” asked Varimathras quietly.
“Feeling remorseful now?” smiled the other, but his voice was gentle again, not mocking, not steely.
“Merely mistrustful, brother,” said Varimathras, and the edge was back in his voice. “Forgiveness isn’t our way.”
Dathrohan nodded. “The spell you hold,” he said, “has some quite… chaotic side effects. When it goes off, your aim will be achieved, and my aims will be furthered.”
“Ah,” said Varimathras. “The pressures of mutual benefit. That sounds more like you.”
“You killed me once,” said Dathrohan quietly. “The gulf you have created between yourself and your kind is vast, but not irreparable. You killed me once, but we are brothers, after all – and if you’re willing to trust me, I’m willing to forgive you.”
Varimathras narrowed his eyes, staring down from his great height.
Then he nodded, and extended his clawed hand. The diminutive man returned the gesture, his hand enveloped in the demon’s massive fist, and they shook. I stared, my cat jaw slack in stunned disbelief.
“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that our alliance needs be a secret,” said Dathrohan after a moment. “I have an appointment with a ship you seemed to have missed.”
Varimathras tilted his horned head, but ignored the jab. “Then we should bring this meeting to a close. Who else knows of the book?”
“Just a dead murloc,” replied the Cardinal, and his voice was steely again.
“A murloc…” muttered the demon, and my heart stopped at the connection the two new allies were about to make. “A blue one?”
Dathrohan nodded, tilting his head. “Fang the Tooth, formerly of Storm City. You know him?”
“We killed him two days ago, or we thought we did. Was there a bull with him?” rumbled the demon. I shrank into the shadows outside the round room.
“He was alone. What bull?”
“A young one, named Horse,” replied Varimathras.
Dathrohan pursed his lips beneath his yellow beard. “A bull named Horse,” he said. “Why does that sound familiar…”
“He was a companion of the murloc. We killed him as well, but raising his corpse proved impossible: it was protected by some power that I’ve never encountered before.” He paused. “The Law,” he said. My blood chilled.
“The Law?” murmured Dathrohan. “The Law, of Storm City, and Fang the Tooth apparently surviving death.”
The allies looked thoughtfully at each other for a moment.
“The moons have separated,” Dathrohan mused quietly. “This world’s ancient magics are stirring again. The powers of the Nether are seeping back into this world as well… and we have a new enemy with power over death.”
“You have a ship to catch,” rumbled Varimathras. “I’m sure we will discuss these things at great length.”
Dathrohan nodded. He inhaled deeply, and looked about. “The Monastery,” he said, “is yours.”
“This is quite a library,” said the Dread Lord. “Shall I spare it? Do your aims require its knowledge?”
“Burn it to the ground,” growled Dathrohan. “There will be no need for the knowledge of humans,” and he spoke the word with deep disdain, “in the new world order.”