Cruix lifted her head up from the report she had just been given. “You are certain of this?” she asked.
“Yes, my Queen. Your father Svebak has been executed.” Srokus informed her.
“Very well. And this new Arch-Demon?”
“His name is Tsach. He has come from the Outer Districts. I am not up to date on home world politics, but it is rumored that he has been in exile for quite some time.”
‘Drek,’ Cruix thought. ‘Svebak had been the only one standing between me and the home world. His refusal to pursue me after my failed attempt to usurp him must have made him look weak. But why would they send someone from the Outer Rim? Why not a war-cleric from Heelix?’ She wondered. ‘Something reeks about this whole situation.’ Cruix decided, and turned her attention back to Srokus.
“That is interesting, but not unusual. Is he acting alone?” Cruix prompted.
“No, my Queen. His following rivals that of Mrodin, and he is reputed to be the most powerful demon to live since Morgus.” Srokus replied.
“Ha! Somehow I doubt that. There is not a demon alive who is that powerful.” Cruix replied, and clicked her nails upon the top of her desk thoughtfully. “I want you to start searching for spies. Interrogate anyone with questionable loyalties.”
“Yes, my Queen.” Srokus said.
“Is there any word on the sorceress? She came through the gate over a month ago, and yet for some reason no one has been able to locate her. I want to know what she is doing here and why. I want her found, Srokus. I do not need any more surprises.”
“Our trackers have determined she is bound for Sa Saran, but she has still managed to slip through our grasp on more than one occasion.”
“Enough with the excuses! I want answers and I want them now! You will go to Sa Saran and handle this personally, and do not come back without her. Understood?”
Srokus nodded, and began to walk toward the door, then hesitated.
“You have something to say, Srokus?” Cruix said noting his pause.
“Only that your father…he was a great leader.”
“Svebak was a fool. He should have killed me while he had the chance; instead he left me here to rule Parcel three in exile. I can only pray that whatever weakness he had for me is not hereditary. Now get out.” Cruix spat.
“Yes, my Queen.” Srokus said as the large obsidian slab that served as a door to her inner sanctum turned white to allow his passage.
Cruix leaned back in her chair. This was not good. Not good at all. She had been focusing too much of her attention on the portal to the new world, and had hoped that it would serve as an escape route for just such an occasion. She had sent nearly half of her ground forces there to ensure victory, but word had come in several weeks ago that Drathus had been unsuccessful in conquering the lands beyond. Not even a fifth of the Grull had returned. Those drekking wizards had defeated her son twice in battle, and rumors of his death by the hand of the fabled Great One were very disturbing, though equally unlikely. She knew Drathus was dead, but by the Great One’s hand? No, it would mean the Book of Morgus spoke the truth literally, and not figuratively as most had assumed.
She dismissed the thought as she looked at the pedestal that had once held the book. ‘If those wizards have gotten their filthy pink paws on it, who knows what it might reveal to them.’ The thought of demonkind’s most important book lost on an alien world gave her chills. ‘It is good that Drathus died in his second attempt, or I would have killed him myself.’
‘Perhaps it is time to pull the decrepit old wizard from his cell and ask him some new questions. He is obviously never going to tell me what I want to know, and rotting in a cell for the last several decades has had little effect on him anyway. Maybe I should just kill him.’
She let out a scream in frustration. All this waiting was starting to get to her. She knew that with Tsach as overlord of Parcel one and two, it would only be a matter of time before he would come for her. He was probably massing his armies in preparation right now. It is what she would be doing had their roles been reversed.
Pacing back and forth, she absently fondled the jeweled necklace around her neck. The gong sounded outside her door, and she glanced over at it for a moment. ‘Now what?’ She thought. “Enter!” Cruix said, still pacing.
The obsidian door changed color to white, allowing a large stony gargoyle to phase through it, into her inner sanctum. “What is it now, Crowf?” She asked of him. “This is not a particularly good time.”
“Forgive the intrusion, my Queen. I came to speak of the Hexzu tribute to your highness.” Crowf explained.
“What of it?” Cruix demanded as she strutted back behind her table and began to leaf through some of the parchments left there.
“It is too much, my Queen. There will not be enough Lizbah left to feed our own populace.” Crowf stated.
Cruix’s countenance changed, and she walked back out from behind the table to where he stood. She was easily five feet taller than his eight-foot frame, and began to stroke his left wing. “But, Crowf, the numbers you gave me last week suggest that there will be plenty of the snake-birds left to feed the number of gargoyles housed here in Okrune. The gargoyle tribute to me has only increased slightly, and is necessary to feed the demon populace of Parcel Three.”
Crowf stiffened noticeably. “You know I do not like you touching me, like that.” He said pointing at her.
“Oh, my apologies.” She said cajolingly. Taking a step back, she waved her hand and morphed into a female gargoyle. She then stepped forward, placed her hands on his chest and looked into his eyes. “Is that better?”
Crowf relaxed slightly. “Yes, my Queen.”
“Now, about those numbers. Surely there will be enough food for your people, unless, of course, there are more gargoyles you are not telling me about.” She said, whispering the last part in his ear.
“N-no. Of course not. I know of no other gargoyles, my Queen.” Crowf replied shakily.
“Very good. Then the tribute you will present to me will reflect that.” Cruix said to him and attempted to smile. Turning, she clapped her hands, and one wall of the room slid to the side revealing a large bedroom, with a demon-sized bed some twenty feet long and fifteen feet wide. “Were there any other problems, Crowf?”
Crowf shifted uneasily to one side, and was unable to keep his eyes off of her. “No, my Queen. There are no other problems.”
“You know what I like about you Crowf?” Cruix asked rhetorically as she led him into the bedroom. “You are so agreeable.” Cruix, still in her gargoyle form, disrobed and leapt up onto the side of the enormous bed and spread her wings before him. “Now, service your queen!” Crowf obeyed. Her bat-like stony wings swept in and down as his moved forward and out. When they intersected a shower of sparks flew upward from each wing at the point of contact as Crowf slowly ground her wings apart with his own. They locked eyes and Cruix cackled as the massive stone wall slid back into place behind them.
A few days later Cruix received word from Srokus that a trap had been set for the female sorceress, and it would only be a matter of time before she was in his custody. ‘Finally some good news.’ she thought. She grunted a dismissal at the chin’ee that handed her the message. The sub-demon turned to leave when Cruix yelled, “Wait!”
The lesser demon turned slowly toward her queen.
“Where is Godakath?” Cruix demanded.
“Godakath. Godakath! My personal messenger, where is he?” She screamed, getting close to the female messenger’s face.
“He is drunk, my Queen. He ordered me to deliver this message to you.” She said, trembling and staring at Cruix’s feet.
“And what is your name, my pet?” Cruix asked.
“Zarabish, my Queen.”
“I have not seen your face around here, Zarabish. From whence did you come?”
“I was traded at the stitch three weeks ago, my Queen.” Zarabish explained.
Cruix eyed her up suspiciously. “And what did we trade to get you?”
“Several snake-birds and some crystals.”
“Are you worth it?”
“Yes, my Queen.”
“Then prove it! Go fetch me some dinner. Now!” Cruix spat, and sent Zarabish scrambling out of her inner sanctum.
A few moments after the sub-demon left Crowf entered the room.
“Back for more, so soon? I thought gargoyles only mated twice a year?” Cruix said as she once again waved her hand and transformed into a female gargoyle. Crowf’s eyes lit up as soon as the transformation was complete.
“Yes, my Queen. You are very hard to resist.” Crowf stated, his breathing becoming quicker.
“I know.” Cruix said and moved in close to him. “I understand you are helping Srokus find the female Sorceress.”
“I have dispatched several of my best warriors to assist in the hunt. Srokus believes we will have better luck spotting her from the air. With our range of sight it will be an easy task.” Crowf shifted slightly. “If I might ask my Queen, who is this female?”
“That is precisely what I intend to find out.” Cruix informed him.
“I should not stay, my Queen. I am afraid the others will begin to question my loyalties if I am seen frequenting your chambers so often.”
“That is your problem, Crowf. Are you saying you no longer wish to hold the title of prefect? I am sure I can find another–.”
“No!” Crowf shouted. His eyes filled with lust as he moved his hands up and down her back.
Cruix raised an eyebrow, and stared him down.
“Forgive me, my Queen, but when it comes to you, I am weak. I am worried though. If the others find out I am collaborating, they may no longer allow me to be privy to the information you desire.”
Cruix sighed, and rubbed his chest. “I suppose, if it makes you happy, I will grant you access to my chambers without having to come through the main door.” Then her countenance changed. “Do not make me regret it!”
“Never, my Queen.” Crowf responded.
“Then let us get to it, I have work to do.” Cruix said and began to push him toward her bedroom as the giant stone door slid back.
Later that evening Cruix made her rounds of the temple. There was something quite enjoyable about watching her demons and chin’ee jump at her approach. The orders had already been given to start preparations for an invasion by this ‘Tsach’. The odds were stacked against her, especially after Drathus had lost half of her foot soldiers. She would likely lose any war with the new Arch-Demon, but she was not without her resources. She would survive even if it meant fleeing through the portal. Of course, that option was now questionable since the wizards had discovered it. She considered it bad form to be caught between two enemy forces. The power she had accrued here was not enough, but it was all she had, and she would not let it go easily. As she returned to her outer chamber, she found the chin’ee Zarabish waiting outside her door with several trays of food.
“You again?” Cruix remarked.
“Yes, my Queen.”
“Is Godakath drunk again?” She asked. ‘He is back less than two months and this?’ Cruix thought. “I will punish him severely for shirking his duties.”
Zarabish nodded and followed Cruix through the obsidian slab that functioned as a gate to her inner chambers. “Forgive me, my Queen, but may I ask you something?”
Cruix raised her eyebrows at the chin’ee. “What is it?” she said, curious about the audacity of this sub-demon.
“I have heard that the Great One has returned. Is this true?”
Cruix spat on the floor in front of her. “Of course not. Who has said this?”
“No one person, my Queen. It is just that some say he has come, and the end is near for our kind.”
“Do not believe everything you hear, chin’ee. You would be well advised to not broach the subject again.”
“Yes, my Queen.” Zarabish replied as she finished setting up her Queen’s meal, bowed, and left the room.
‘That one reminds me of Drathus.’ Cruix mused. ‘He too seemed obsessed with finding and destroying the Great One. How he used to whine and beg to enter into the Jakarute, and when he was finally given the chance, he chose Simeon. My dear Simeon, how I have missed him. He gave up his own freedom, lost the challenge to my son on purpose, and almost died, just to spare my feelings.’
‘And when Drathus finally completed the Jakarute ritual and achieved full demon status, he still obsessed about the Great One. When I could stand no more, I sent him away to help build the portal, and to conquer the world beyond. I should have known he would fail; of course I could not foresee these alien wizards. I have never encountered one of them before coming here; the war-clerics believe them to be some rare anomaly. Yet now not only have I captured one, but another has graced me with her presence on this world, and I want to know why.’ She thought. Glancing down at the tray of prepared food, Cruix cast a spell over it to detect any poisons before she grabbed a hunk of meat from the plate and took a bite.
The next day the temple and all of Okrune was abuzz with activity. Preparations were being made to defend against a full invasion, and there was much work to be done. Most of the Grull were at work making repairs and fortifications to the rock wall that surrounded the small city. This fight would be ugly, and Cruix was making plans for her retreat to the portal, and to make sure she had sufficient forces there to handle whatever she found waiting for her on the other side. She was fairly certain she would not be able to win against Tsach’s army, but vowed to make sure there was nothing left of value here when he arrived.
Word came at noon that the Sorceress and her companion had been spotted leaving Sa Saran. “Two of them!” Cruix screamed in outrage. Now she began to wonder if the wizards of the new world were planning an invasion of their own. “This is all I need.” She said, as she read the report given to her by Zarabish.
“May I speak, my Queen?” Zarabish asked Cruix.
Cruix stared at her, then nodded.
“We are about to be invaded, are we not?”
Again Cruix nodded, wondering what was going to come out of this chin’ee’s mouth now.
“Would it not be wise to allow those sub-demons who are ready to enter the Jakarute to do so? You will need all the ‘full’ demons you can get, if you are to defeat the armies that will come.” Zarabish said as she stared at the ground in front of Cruix.
“Why is this of interest to you, chin’ee?” Cruix asked in response. ‘This one is a little too bold for my liking.’ she thought.
“Only that I would like to make the attempt myself.” Zarabish replied.
Cruix laughed. “You are on the bottom of my list, chin’ee. You hold no favor with me. Taking the duties of that worm Godakath does not elevate your status.”
“Yes, my Queen.” Zarabish said. “Forgive me for asking.”
“You must earn the right to enter the Jakarute, and I will tell you when you are ready. Now get out of my sight before I kill you for your insolence!” Cruix yelled and slammed the table with her fist.
“Yes, my Queen.” Zarabish replied, bowing, then quickly turned and left the room.
As soon as she was gone Cruix sat back down on her chair. “Well?” She said out loud.
A small door slid back in the far wall, and a creature draped in a ragged black cloak glided forth from the shadows. “I could not read her, my Queen.”
“What! You are a Seer, are you not?” Cruix seethed.
“It is extremely rare, but the sub-demon has a strong natural ability to block my sight, and more than that, my Queen, she has been enhanced.” The hooded Seer replied calmly.
“Enhanced?” Cruix questioned.
“I could tell that much, my Queen. Her ability was enhanced by magic.”
“Could she have done this to herself?” Cruix asked, her brow furrowing again.
“Unknown, my Queen, as I could not read her.”
“Very well Seer, you may go.” Cruix said, and watched as the small creature turned and glided away through her door. She reached over and touched a small bell sitting on her desk and a soft chime rang out. A moment later a demon entered the chamber.
“Yes, my Queen?” He questioned.
“Double your efforts to find Godakath. Assume he is dead, and not a deserter.” Cruix ordered.
“Yes, my Queen.” The demon said and left the room.
This was getting interesting, Cruix thought, and returned to her paper work.
That evening the demon returned to Cruix’s chambers.
“My Queen, we have found Godakath. He is dead, and was buried under manure in the hyukduk stables.”
“It is as I suspected. Take several Ghouls, and locate the one named Zarabish. Bring her to me, and make certain she does not escape you, or I will have your head.”
“Yes, my Queen.”