Forty-Minute Story: Haggling at the Pit (Conclusion)

Last week:

“I’ll keep this short,” said Lanna. “Azmodel. I want you to kill me.”

The cave shook again with Azmodel’s laughter. “Oh, Lanna,” he cackled. “Do our talks bore you so much? Are you ready to end it so soon?”

“I didn’t say kill me right now,” she snapped, impatient with his antics. “Only when I ask you to.”

His laughter fell away, save for the occasional aftershock. He saw she was serious. At last only the remains of an amused smile were left on his face.

“But why?”

To be continued…

Lanna frowned. “You’ve heard of the wizard Ranalai?”

Azmodel chuckled like an avalanche, loosing cascades of dust from the ceiling. “I know more about Ranalai than he knows about himself, but that’s not saying much, the old fool. Sits on a cushion mumbling nonsense and calling it magic, not recognizing his own daughter when she feeds him gruel and dabs up his dribble. Oh, everyone’s heard of Ranalai.”

“He is a friend of mine,” she said sternly, “and ten years ago, when he spoke a Binding you leapt to obey. Ten years ago, he was like me. And ten years from now, I will be…”

“…like him.” For a moment his open-mouthed surprise overpowered his usual, contemptuous smile. Only a moment. “I don’t envy the poor physician who had to give you that news. The outlook must be dire indeed if you’d turn to me for a…cure. Tell me, if all you want is an early death, why not have a kindly friend put a knife between your ribs?”

“Because my kindly friend would be dead herself before the knife touched my skin,” Lanna answered, with a touch of pride. “I have not been idle these sixty years. My bones are protected by more charms than the Queen, charms not easily unraveled. Not that such trivial magics are any concern of yours.”

“But you can’t command me,” he said, blue eyes gleaming through the radiant smoke. “You don’t need my services yet, and by the time you do, you’ll be too weak for the Binding. You’ll have to ask.” He grinned, revealing an army of yellow teeth. “Nicely.”

“Azmodel – ”

“What do I get in return?”

“In return?” She nearly choked on the question. “I’ll be dead, and you’ll have one less miserable wizard ordering you around. Don’t tell me you won’t enjoy that.”

“To be sure. But by then, you’ll have no more strength for commanding anyone. And I might enjoy it even more, watching you try to guess your own name. What do I get in return, Lanna?”

She sighed, too tired to hate him anymore. “What do you want?”

“The words.” He leaned close with sudden hunger, and she stepped back, feeling the heat from his broad nostrils. “Let me speak the summoning words aloud.”

“If I do, then you give your word that you’ll keep the bargain?”

“My very word.”

Bemused, she thought it over a moment, then nodded.

Azmodel drew himself to a fearful height, rising on a tower of roiling fog, unnaturally bright. He threw apart his arms and scored the rock with his massive claws. The terrible joy of his voice was unlike anything she had ever heard:

“Rictus whispers in the dark,
Tow’ring tumults on the bark –
Master of the starless deep:
Lanna, now arise from sleep!”

She arched an amused eyebrow at his theatrics. “I hope you enjoyed saying that. You knew full well it didn’t have any power.”

“Neither has a cherry,” he said, sinking back into the smoking chasm. “But it does taste sweet on the tongue.”

In another moment, he was gone.

The End

3 responses to “Forty-Minute Story: Haggling at the Pit (Conclusion)

  1. Is it really the end?

  2. I was surprised, which I think is a good reaction. At first when I read it, it felt like it could go on (just a reader wanting more), but now that I’ve reread it, I think it ends in a good place.

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