© 2002 Drhoz

    The Castellan read through the days accounts. Again. For the fifth time. Day had long since fled, but anything, ANYTHING, had to used to distract himself from the terrible, well-hidden FEAR.

    As it was, he still came close to panic when claws rapped briefly at the bronze doors to his chamber. It was the wemic, face grim, armed only with the ceremonial khopesh and shield. The Castellan tried not to show his relief, and asked, with practised calmness "Yes? What is it?"

    "Come to Eastern Chambers - there is an emergency"

    He played the part of concerned official well, he felt, as he gathered a robe of office around himself and followed, as swiftly as protocol allowed. Sweet breezes from the new expanses of spice trees south of the city climbed softly thru the gleaming metal walkways and balconies. Cynidocea had grown, immensely, under the leadership of the gnoll... it was a shame, almost, that what had to be, had to be.... he paused, a wave of guilt making his hands shake. The wemic glanced back, impassively curious, and accepted a stammered apology.

    The Prophet's chambers were not large. Soldiers were gathered, talking in worried whispers quickly silenced as the general and the councillor approached. The wemic nodded, clawed a salute, as she lead her fellow councillor into the chambers beyond, ignoring his whispered questions "What is happening? Where is the Prophet?" The human resisted the impulse to look around for the body.

    "I'm here" growled a voice from the tables near the far window.

    The chancellors expression froze... was drawn into a rictus grin, poorly.

    "Lord.. you are well.. when our friend told me there was an emergency..."

    "You feared the worst?" said the gnoll, softly. "how very strange..." He was leant over the table, carefully fastening and securing minute bronze cogwheels to a sinous winged frame held beneath his paw. "A present for my brother's grandchildren.... Look under the bowl on the other table, councillor. I believe it may be something of yours."

    His hands shook, as he stepped towards the plain clay bowl, where it lay, smudging the valuable inlays with dust. The wemic was standing behind him, by the door. There would be no succor or escape there...

    He lifted one side of the bowl... heart in his throat.. glimpsed twitching shinyness and fell backwards, his cry choked by his fear, and scrabbled away, until he could retreat no further.

    Vitus was standing now, carefully pulling long rockwool gloves over his paws, still speaking softly and sadly "I'm very disappointed, Chancellor,.. very disappointed indeed... Stand up please." The human couldn't, his face a mask of terror. The gnoll snapped a gesture to the general, impatiently, and the human was dragged swaying to his feet.

    Vitus paced on, around the now corpse-white human, voice still, still, a soft, sad murmur. "Did I fail you in some way, old friend? Did my plans for the renewal of the Empire somehow offend? No, that must be it, you were upset because you did not get to bless the opening of the western highways..."

    And now he SNARLED, as he spun and threw an arm, chokingly, around the human's throat, dragging him backwards off his feet and breathing, hot teeth gleaming in the lantern-light "I TRUSTED YOU!"

    The human could do nothing more then claw, helplessly, at the furred forearm that was swiftly killing him, as he was dragged towards the table, and the bowl. Vitus brushed it violently aside, and reached, carefully, for the shell of the thing beneath.

    "Interesting little creatures.. I'ld been told that they were long extinct..." The councillor could not see what the prophet held, but could only hear the squelch of its body as it expanded from its shell... he froze, eyes bulging, the only noise the voice of the gnoll, still close to his ear, as he looked to the wemic, still standing, unmoving, by the door. "Does he have family?"

    She shook her head "None close"

    Vitus returned his attention to the now purple-faced human in his grip "As I said, interesting creatures...". The Chancellor felt something cold and wet touch the side of his neck, and struggled, futilely, legs kicked, blunt, chewed nails, digging vainly into the gnoll's arm. Vitus strengthened the pressure on the human's throat "What's that? Nothing to say? Oh, I see... it's the paralysing venom, isn't it? Tell me...." letting the other three tentacles attach themselves, crawling over the human's face to fasten and grip "Do you think you'll feel it? When they burrow into your skull, and prise it apart from the inside? Do you think you'll feel it?"

    He couldn't feel anything, now, beyond the aching pain in his lungs, the pressure on his neck, and the cold caress of the thing's limbs against his skin.. he could imagine what would happen next, as they wormed their way under his skin, into the bone, spreading and expanding...

    Vitus threw him to the floor... and the thing beside him.. watching as he tried to crawl away, equally terrified of the creature and the gnoll. He sobbed with fear, air no respite now, broken utterly as the gnoll crushed the thing to pulp under a bronze-soled sandle.

    Vitus didn't even look up. "Take him.. take him and find out what he knows." and looked out over his city, as the wemic dragged .. his victim? away...