CAST OF PLAYERS:
Debora Silkotch…………..Casey Gavin…………………………Human Psionic
Aron Head……………….Story/Setting/Everything Else…….Game Master
“Ohhhhh…” Gerard Houseman’s decapitated head groaned. “…Ohhh… I feel awful.” It grimaced, eyes flashing to Mardmor. “I can’t move…” It looked to Casey. “We’re both prisoners, then? Of this guy?”
Casey struggled to conceal her frustration. She should probably be feeling sorry for the unfortunate Mr. Houseman, but all she could think was that one incautious statement from him could snowball into ruin. “Yes.”
“Forgive my manners,” she added, keeping her tone as neutral, even pleasant, as she could manage. “Mr. Houseman, this is Mardmor, the Goblin King. He has aspirations to take over the world and end life as we know it. He’s the reason why your Prince betrayed you. Mardmor, have you been properly introduced to Gerard Houseman yet?”
“I have not,” Mardmor smiled. “Thank you for preserving the niceties, Casey. And you wound me. I do not seek to take over the world. Why would anyone want that? My goal is to change the world. I don’t want to end life. I seek to liberate it. Certainly, some have died… and others must need follow, but they are an unfortunate, necessary few.”
Houseman’s eyes were wide on Mardmor. They flicked over to Casey, “Oh, this guy’s nuts.”
Casey was inclined to agree, but it didn’t show on her face. “Your pardon, Mardmor; I only know what I’ve heard. Rumors, conjecture, speculation…I know how things can get twisted, especially when people are frightened. Small incidents get blown all out of proportion.” She could barely summon the nerve to say that last bit aloud in the presence of Houseman’s dismembered head. “I’d like to hear your side of things; will you share your vision of the new world with me?”
“For too long,” Mardmor said, “My people have suffered under the burdensome yoke of artificial limitations for hundreds of years. We are cut off from our homeland. We are foreigners in a land that dulls our senses, aliens in a world that abhors us, that drains our very souls. I will change all that. I will restore the trods and throw wide the gates of Arcadia. A new age will dawn and my people will take their rightful place.”
“And my people,” Casey observed coolly, “will perish.”
“Oh yeah…” The head muttered, “This guy’s a nut.”
“No,” Mardmor shook his head. “Not at all. Your people will in fact thrive. For the most part.”
“For the most…no, never mind. Tell me about Kilarothes. Where do he and his armies fit into this brave new utopia?”
“We have mutual goals,” Mardmor answered, “at this time. I have need of his sword and he has need of my insight. We have agreed to part company when our business is concluded.”
“Yeah…this is the part I’m having the problem with,” Casey said wryly. “For one thing, you wouldn’t need his sword if you didn’t expect the path to your new golden age to be piled with the bodies of this world’s rightful occupants.”
Mardmor shrugged. “People are always resistant to change. Force is often required.”
“In my experience, when that sort of radical change is imposed on people by force, it rarely sticks. Or if there’s no going back, then the eventual outcome usually bears little resemblance to the original intent.”
The Goblin King smiled. “Every plan no matter how well conceived must need change at implementation. I am flexible. This is our time, Casey. The world you knew last night, will not be the same one that dawns in the morning.”
That struck home. “You…your plan…it’s happening tonight?”
He simply nodded.
Despair seeped in, like a chilling fog.
We’ve already lost.
But she pressed on, even though she was starting to wonder if there was any point. “And for another thing…I’m guessing Kilarothes is still going to *be* here, even after the two of you have concluded your business and parted company?”
The Goblin King shook his head. “You misunderstand Kilarothes’ desire. He wants nothing more than to return to his homeland. Just as many of my people do. There truly is no more powerful call than that of home. Kilarothes will leave.”
Casey strongly suspected that to be a gross oversimplification — and she figured there was probably a good reason why the demon prince was exiled in the first place — but she also recognized a closing door when she heard one. “You know, it occurs to me,” she said thoughtfully, shifting gears, “that I don’t really know anything about goblins, Mardmor. I think you’re the first one I’ve ever met, and people don’t seem to talk about them much. What kind of conditions do your people live in now, that you’re wanting to free them from?”
“My people?” Mardmor shook his head. “All of the fae are my people. ‘Goblins’ are not a race, per se. Rather, it is a classification of ideology among our people.”
“Really?” Casey’s interest was genuinely piqued now. “What kind of ideology is it?”
“My detractors,” his green eyes flashed, “have characterized it as an ideology of madness. But it is more correctly described as a political philosophy rejecting the status quo. We seek to take destiny into our own hands, to liberate our oppressed brothers and sisters, and destroy the corruption of the High Court.”
“You could be describing a noble revolution or chaotic and violent anarchy,” she shrugged. “I don’t suppose you could be more specific about your beliefs?”
Houseman’s eyes kept flashing down and to his sides.
She glanced over at him. It was only a matter of time before he realized what had been done to him, and — well, ‘lost his head’ probably wasn’t the right phrase, but close enough. She didn’t know of any way to break it to him gently, though, so she let him figure it out on his own.
He frowned, eyes darkening.
“Absolutely,” Mardmor’s tone was gracious as he replied to Casey’s question, “But first, tell me of your grandfather.”
She looked surprised by the non sequitur. “Both of my grandfathers have passed away. Which one did you want to know about?”
“The one you were speaking to just a few moments ago.”
“Mardmor,” she said gently, “we keep coming back to this.”
The Goblin King strolled slowly to her, picking up a blade from the cart.
“…Um…” The vampire’s head cautioned.
“You have shut down my psionics. If you hadn’t, I still couldn’t read through the walls of this room.”
Mardmor nodded, rolling the handle of the heavy surgical knife in his hand.
She considered. “And even if I could … my grandfathers would both be in their eighties now if they were still alive. I don’t think you need to worry about them mounting some kind of geriatric commando rescue mission on my account. Especially since, as I mentioned before, they are in fact dead, both of them.”
“Which is why I find your conversation with this grandfather so fascinating.”
He lay the cold blade against her right thumb.
She stiffened, pulling ineffectively against the restraint.
“I’ve no more time for your lies, Casey.” His eyes blazed with emerald fire and a chill ran down her spine. “Now is the time for truth.”
“No!” Houseman cried. “Wait!”
CHOK! In an instant, her thumb was off!
Casey blinked, stunned to see her thumb gathered up by the Goblin King. She stared in disbelieving horror as blood sprayed from the severed artery, a vivid crimson fountain where her thumb was a moment ago.
“You rotten bastard,” Houseman growled. “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!”
“Shut up, Mr. Houseman.” Mardmor crossed to the head.
“What’re you…?” Houseman made a pitiful gurgle, “…Oh God…”
Hungry slurping sounds drew Casey’s focus. She watched in abject horror as Mardmor fed her bloody thumb to the decapitated head of Gerard Houseman, who seemed himself horrified that he was sucking hungrily on the severed digit. The sight was too mesmerizingly gruesome to look away from, even as hellish agony roared to life in what was left of her hand.
Nausea swept through her. A cold sweat broke out on her suddenly clammy skin, and she turned her head to vomit helplessly over the side of her chair.
“You have many fingers,” Mardmor whispered to Casey. “And he is quite hungry. The truth! Now!”
She huddled back down, a sob wrenching her. The pain was unbelievable — and getting worse as outraged nerve endings shrilled their febrile protest around the already-swelling wound. Hot, pounding throbs began to rise excruciatingly up her arm.
But even in the midst of that agony, a tiny detached part of her mind offered a flicker of hope. This wasn’t the sort of torture that could be dragged out indefinitely. Maybe half an hour, forty-five minutes tops…and then she’d have bled to death and her secrets would be safe forever. She only had to hold out for that long.
The squalling, throbbing agony that used to be her right hand made thirty minutes sound like an eternity.
“I’ve told you the truth,” she choked out bitterly. “My grandfathers are dead. My powers aren’t working anyway! Why don’t you believe me?”
“Because…” He leaned in, his left hand grabbing her up by the hair. His face filled her field of vision, lips pulled back in a vicious snarl, “…I *heard* you. You talked to this man! You spoke of Usi. Where are they? Who are they? Tell me now. ANSWER ME!”
She was limp in his grasp, weak with pain and dismay. “Please…I–I don’t–”
His eyes blazed, as the blade in his right hand removed her left index finger.
“AAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIGGGGHHHHHHHH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” The screams tore at her throat, but she barely even knew she was shrieking. All of her attention was consumed by the searing pain blossoming in her left hand, adding its fiery agony to the throbbing torment in her right. It left no room for thought or reason, nothing but the overpowering desire for it to cease. The mere possibility that he might bring that blade down again, take another finger, ignite a new fire in one of her maimed and raging hands, was too much to bear. Half-crazed with pain and dread, she started to tell Mardmor what he wanted to know….
…and came up against Falco’s failsafe in her mind: a solid barrier, impervious to pain or coercion.
She’d actually forgotten. But now a flash of memory came to her — had it only been that morning? It seemed like a lifetime ago. “A mental barrier that will prevent you from being compelled to share this information,” her mentor had offered, and she’d accepted without a second thought.
Even through the overwhelming physical anguish that was consuming her now, the full import of that sank in. She could *choose* to betray Falco’s secrets, but they could never be wrested from her against her will. She would have to consciously decide that telling Mardmor was the right thing to do.
And that was never going to happen, no matter how many pieces he cut her into.
Despair and relief mingled sharply with the agonizing torment her captor had inflicted, breaking the last fragile threads of her self-control. Helpless in the Goblin King’s merciless grasp, she closed her eyes and lets the sobs come freely. She was beginning to feel the first tell-tale lightheadedness of blood loss; it was only a matter of time now. The burden of fear that she might break down and betray Falco’s confidences had been lifted from her. There was nothing left for her to do now but try to endure the pain until death set her free.