Chapter 12: Planning
Thorn returned to his throne room only after venting his rage on another prisoner, one of those sent to the Netherworld for execution when the Overlord so desired. He needed to be able to think clearly, something that was difficult at best when he was overwhelmed by the need to kill.
He really did need Gnarl intact and undamaged, unfortunately. The old Minion Master was the only creature in the Tower who knew how everything worked a weakness he couldn't permit. It had cost him too much already.
Gnarl looked startled although this was hardly the first time Thorn had returned from the dungeons with his armor liberally spattered with blood by Thorn's appearance.
"Erm, Master? Perhaps you might wish to remove the entrails before you repair to the private quarters?"
He blinked, looked down. Perhaps he had been a little more
vigorous than usual. What spattered his armor was rather more solid than he usually tracked up to the throne room.
Thorn shrugged and sent a small surge of lightning through his armor. It was enough to jolt the worst of the mess off: the minions could clean the rest later.
Gnarl covered his eyes with one hand and shook his head. "What I meant to say, Lord, was that your Mistresses are in a sufficiently delicate state that entering your private quarters looking like this would be liable to cause further upset."
"I'm not going up there yet," Thorn growled. "What lies west of Everlight?"
Gnarl looked blank. "West of Everlight? I never heard of
no, wait, there was something
" He made a frustrated sound. "So long ago, I just can't bring it to mind." He shook his head. "It stands to reason there'd be something there, I suppose, but I'd have to search the oldest chronicles, Master."
"Do that." The slave hadn't been in any condition to lie. "Also, send to Everlight and have them ready their fastest ship."
"You can't just go chasing around the ocean on that traitor's word, Master!" Gnarl really did look shocked.
Thorn was sure he heard a minion snicker.
"You're telling me he dared try lying?" he asked with amusement.
The old minion shuddered. "I
no, Sire. I just
It's too dangerous. You need more information."
"And I'll have it before I leave," Thorn said flatly. "I want that ship ready to depart."
Gnarl looked pained, but he nodded. "As you command, Sire. Will there be anything else?"
"I'll be in the library." Thorn didn't doubt it would take long before everyone in the Netherworld knew he wanted to know about anything west of Everlight. Minions gossiped worse than old women.
Kaff didn't know if he should be eager to finish his shift in the private quarters which would get him away from the dismal atmosphere with the Mistresses drooping and crying or not. Away from unhappy Mistresses was good, but then he'd have to face Gnarl, which wasn't. Especially with Master mad at Gnarl.
One of the message minions came running. "Kaff, Master wants west of Everlight. Me got to tell everyone."
"Me tell everyone here." Kaff assured him. He'd been a message minion not long ago, and besides, the Mistresses preferred to hear from minions they already knew. "Who we tell if we know?"
"We tell Master," the messenger said, looking awed. "Him in book-place."
Kaff's ears couldn't droop any more, or they would have. Telling Master was worse than telling Gnarl. Gnarl didn't make you always-dead if he was mad. "Okay. Me wants beetle for telling Mistresses. That " He counted on his fingers "three beetles."
The messenger's ears lifted. "Me get beetles!" He ran out as fast as his feet could carry him.
Kaff should have demanded more beetles. Still three fat ones would make a nice snack, and he really needed one now.
"What's going on?" Mistress Kelda asked. "Is there news?"
Kaff scurried over to where the three Mistresses sat hugging each other with their eyes leaking salt water. "Master wants west of Everlight, message minion says, Mistresses," he said.
Mistress Kelda frowned. "I didn't think there was anything but water out there."
Mistress Juno made her pillows move in interesting ways when she shrugged. "I heard stories from some of the officers, something about a colony." She made a helpless gesture. "It was all rumor."
Mistress Fay rose, but she was shaky. "I must speak to our Lord." She looked all wrong, like something was burning her from inside. "Take me to him."
"Yes, Mistress." There wasn't anything else Kaff could say to that demand.
Her hand on his shoulder felt cold, and she clutched him as though she needed his support to stand. "Come, minion."
He should have asked for lots more beetles.
Thorn looked up from the ancient chronicle when he heard footsteps, and blinked when he saw a minion leading Fay. She moved as though she was ill, gripping the brown's shoulder as though it was a lifeline. "Fay?"
"The minion says you seek word of lands west of Everlight, Lord." Her voice sounded fragile, too.
Thorn nodded. "The traitor spoke of a destination there."
"Then I shall trouble you little, my Lord," Fay said. "Juno heard rumors of Empire colonies, and my people have legends of a land far beyond the western horizon, untouched by the troubles of Evernight and Everlight, a land where no evil has touched." Her expression grew faintly wistful. "I know no more than that, Lord, save that no adventurer who sailed west ever returned."
Thorn stepped forward, caught by Fay's heartbreaking delicacy, the sorrow she wore like a cloak. He stopped short of taking her hands, realizing then that he was still coated in blood and worse. "It is better than I hoped, beloved."
Fay sank into a deep curtsy, but she needed the brown's help to rise.
Thorn silently summoned blues. "Rest, beloved. You're ill."
Fay smiled faintly. "No, Lord, not ill. Your magic passed from me to Ingelir. Without him, I have nothing."
It took Thorn a moment to realize what she meant. His breath caught, and he caught her, held her close. "Why did you say nothing?"
She regarded him with wide, solemn eyes. "Ah, my dear Lord, what would have changed had I spoken? My life is bound to you and our son. I must have both else I fade and die."
"You will not die." He saw the brown gesture, and two blues ran past, hastened to Fay.
One looked confused. "Mistress not sick," he said.
"Mistress fady." The second blue frowned. "Need Mortis, Master. Me get?"
Thorn nodded. "Tell him to come to the private quarters."
"Yes, Master." The blues disappeared into the shadows of the library.
He frowned at the brown. "You
Kaff, isn't it?"
The brown's eyes opened very wide. "Yes, Master! Me Kaff."
"Go tell Gnarl I'm in the private quarters. If he's not in the throne room, wait for him and tell him."
"Yes, Master." He vanished almost as fast as the blues.
Thorn carried Fay back to the private quarters, wondering what Kelda would want carved off him for messing up the private quarters this time. The absence of threats was almost worse than the way she and Juno trailed after him, as though they had nothing else.
Curse it, he was the Overlord, not something out of those blasted romance scrolls Fay loved so much. He'd succumbed to curiosity once and started reading one. He'd barely got past the first roll before fleeing with his face burning. He certainly wasn't going to comfort anything. That wasn't what he was.
Mortis padded to his side as he set Fay down on her bed. The ancient blue frowned, and extended one hand, resting it perhaps an inch above her breast.
Magic curled from Mortis's fingers into Fay's body, a slow trickle of power that didn't look or feel like normal healing, but it brought a little more color into Fay's face, and allowed her to slide into what looked like a restful sleep.
"Master," Mortis said in his gravelly voice. "Mistress Fay must join you when you seek out your spawnlings."
"Her spawnling is the source of her strength, Master. With him absent, her magic drains away in search of him. I have slowed the drain and restored a little of her magic."
Thorn frowned. "Why would that happen, Mortis?"
The old blue made an odd gesture. "The spawnling is closer to you than Mistress Fay, Sire. The magic you instilled in her moved to the closer source."
Although that made no sense to him, Thorn knew better than to demand an explanation. Once Mortis started with magical theory, he didn't take long to move into concepts that left Thorn's mind twisting into strange knots.
Better to focus on practical matters instead. "How many blues can help her?" Mortis had to stay in the Netherworld, not least because his old rivalry with Gnarl was something Thorn planned to use to keep his Minion Master in line.
"Only Storm, Master." As always, Mortis didn't waste words. He didn't waste anything.
"Have him start with you supervising."
Mortis bowed. "As you command, Master."
As Kaff knew from guard duty in the throne room, it was boring when nothing was happening. Waiting for Gnarl to come back from wherever he'd gone was still better than wailing Mistresses. They made more noise than their spawnlings, and it took ages before human spawnlings did anything but eat, scream, and make messes so stinky even greens turned up their noses.
Kaff wasn't sure how something that small and helpless could make such powerful stink, but they did. You could use the rags for weapons.
Maybe it was because they had to eat from their spawn-mother's pillows, until their teeth came in. Human meat wasn't nearly as tasty as nice crunchy beetle. Squeezing it until something came out seemed like you'd get all the worst bits.
Kaff sighed softly. He shouldn't be thinking about how human spawnlings survived. He shouldn't be thinking about anything. It wasn't right for minions to think: that was for the Master, and Gnarl, and Mortis. Minions did what Master ordered.
"Wut you lookin' at?"
Kaff blinked. He hadn't been looking at anything, but the guard minion stomping towards him seemed to think otherwise. "Me not looking. Me waiting for Gnarl, like Master said."
The guard's ears stood up and forward, and he tightened his claws around his pike. "Gnarl not worth spit."
Uh-oh. Now Kaff remembered: this was Bruss, the oldest brown never to make it into the horde. Mostly because he was dumber than rocks and slow. Even Kaff could beat him in the practice arena.
This was different, though. Bruss had his guard armor and his pike. All Kaff had was his claws, and besides, he didn't think Master would want minions fighting each other unless he told them to. Master didn't want anything happening unless he'd ordered it.
Bruss smelled like he wanted a fight. Bruss always wanted a fight, but he really wanted one now.
The other guard minions weren't going to stop him, either. Not the way they were grinning. They must have bets on how much Bruss was going to hurt him.
"Master said." Kaff didn't think Bruss would let that matter.
"Me not hear." Bruss swung his pike, fast.
Kaff jumped up. He landed on the pike staff and bounced from there to Bruss's shoulders, where he held on for all he was worth. The bigger minion couldn't hit him properly and couldn't pull him away, not while he had his claws in Bruss's neck, where he'd kill the older minion if he ripped loose.
The other guard minions were laughing hard enough to widdle themselves.
They did widdle when Gnarl hobbled into the throne room, but not from laughing.
To Kaff, it looked like Gnarl went from hobbling to in front of Bruss without going through the air in between, then Bruss was on the floor groaning.
By the time Kaff had rolled away and got to his feet, the other guard minions were in just as bad shape, and Gnarl was ordering one of the cleaner minions to go get the next shift, now, because these useless pimples weren't fit for anything except scrubbing the barracks.
Kaff scurried back to his refuge behind Master's throne. Maybe Gnarl wouldn't be mad at him if he got out of the way and stayed out of the way.
As Gnarl kept on cursing the guard minions, Kaff decided that was a silly thing to hope for.
Finally, Gnarl came over to where Kaff was trying to make himself small. "What started that?"
"Me not know," Kaff said. "Me waiting for you, cause Master said to tell you him in private quarters, and Bruss want to fight. Me try not to fight."
Gnarl cackled. "Oh, you did a fine job of not fighting, youngster. Who taught you that one?"
Kaff shrugged. "Me watch greens. Me not green, but me skinny like them."
"Hm. A tactical thinker." Gnarl seemed happy.
Kaff wasn't sure what a tactical thinker was, but if it made Gnarl happy it had to be a good thing.
"To the private quarters, then," Gnarl said. "The Master wouldn't have had you wait here for me if he didn't want me up there."
The Master was waiting in the magic room when Gnarl arrived. "Yes, Master?" He'd cleaned his armor, which explained why the Mistresses weren't lamenting over that.
Master Thorn didn't waste words. "There are lands to the west. I'm going to Evernight to speak to the ghosts about their legends. What did you find?"
Gnarl blinked. "Nothing, Master. There isn't a single cursed word anywhere about anything west of Everlight." He shook his head. "I could swear I know about it from somewhere, but I can't find a blasted thing anywhere."
"If you remember, tell me."
At least the Master wasn't raging any more. He'd focused, and nothing was going to stand in the way of his goal. Gnarl didn't envy the spawn-thieves. "Of course, Lord." Gnarl hesitated, then asked, "What of your sire, Master? He would certainly know."
"If the ghosts have nothing, I'll consider it." Thorn breathed in slowly, straightened. The magic in the room seemed to bend around him, drawn to his presence. "Keep watch. This shouldn't be dangerous."
When Master Thorn said something shouldn't be dangerous that usually meant if anything went wrong it was likely to kill people, and Gnarl was supposed to contain the damage. The Minion Master's mood wasn't helped by Mortis arriving and giving Gnarl a nod somewhere between friendly and warning.
Master Thorn nodded to both of them, then turned towards the pillar of magic and the spell-stones and catalysts hanging there. Magic glowed around him, lightning crackling from his body to the pillar as he drew power to shape into something... new. A new spell.
Gnarl watched as the air twisted in front of the Master, twisted and opened to a blurred view of... wood. It took Gnarl a moment to realize what the Master had done.
"Unholy Dark... You're looking through their eyes!"
Master Thorn gave a single nod, but a slight smile touched his face. "I want this watched, constantly. I can find them now I've made the link, but I want anything that happens to the children monitored."
Gnarl decided it would be a bad idea to say that linking to another person like that could destroy them. Not only was he sure Master Thorn already knew that, he suspected the Master had arranged his magic so that any failure would destroy him rather than his spawnlings. Gnarl was sure he didn't want to know the details. He hated having to resurrect his Overlords, not least because that usually meant something had gone catastrophically wrong.