Authors: Alan Dean Foster
Available from Warner Aspect
The Journeys of the Catechist Series:
Carnivores of Light and Darkness
Into the Thinking Kingdoms
The I Inside
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2000 by Thranx, Inc.
All rights reserved.
name and logo are registered trademarks of Warner Books, Inc.
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First eBook Edition: October 2009
For my nephew, Joshua Francis Carroll
e is coming. And he is not alone.”
So spake the Worm.
It had started out to be a better day. Waking after a passable night’s rest in a less discontented mood than usual, Hymneth
the Possessed had chosen to dress in armor and accoutrements that were celebratory instead of intimidating. Gold-trimmed leggings
tucked tightly into high boots of dark-crimson embossed leather. Scarlet armor covered him from head to thigh, and rubies
so red they were almost black studded the gloves that encased his bare hands. Instead of horns, the high-ridged crimson helmet
with its rearward-sweeping feathered crest gave him the appearance of some great and noble raptor diving to Earth.
Eyeing the result in the narrow floor-to-ceiling mirror at the far end of his dressing chamber, he found that he was well
pleased with the effect. Today he would inspire only awe among his servitors and subjects, and leave terror in the closet.
At his high-pitched, intricate call, the twin eromakadi ceased their hunting of small bright things beneath the
massive bed and came to heel. Intricately filigreed satin cape swirling behind him, he exited the sleeping chamber in a flurry
of gold and crimson and made his way downstairs.
As usual, he ate alone, attended only by silent servants desperate to be free of his company but unable to show their true
feelings. Their frozen smiles and polite inquiries after his health fooled him for not a minute. Their fear was as plain to
hear in their voices as if they had been bound and bleeding in his presence. The slight tremolo at the end of every sentence,
the swift darting of eyes whenever they thought he was not looking, the infinitesimal quiver of lower lips: Their emotions
were as blatantly obvious to him as bulging eyes and hacking sobs.
He ignored it all, pretending to be taken in by the pitiful subterfuges as they served him. These were the best of the best,
the few who could survive in his service without going mad or begging for dismissal. It made no sense. Was he not a kind and
even generous master? Other nobles of wealth and power regularly beat their staff. Still others paid only a pittance for services
rendered. In contrast to this, he was tolerant of oversights and paid well. And, in addition, there was the prestige that
went with working in the house of the master of Ehl-Larimar. He could not understand why his people were not content.
Yes, it was necessary occasionally to discipline a menial for a job overlooked or poorly done. Yes, his methods for doing
so were undeniably—well, different. As in everything, he prized efficiency above all. Why it should matter to people if a
miscreant was crippled or given the face of a bat or frog instead of simply being broken on the rack or blinded in the traditional
manner he could not understand.
Was it not better to have the teeth of a rat than none at all? Sometimes he felt he would never understand the reasoning
of the common man.
Of the gustatory delights that burdened the dining table he normally would consume only a small amount. The remainder of the
pancakes, eggs, meats, breads, jams, butters, fruits, cereals, juices, and cold drinks would be divided among his kitchen
staff. He grunted to himself as he ate, passing food and liquid through the lower opening in the crimson helmet. They might
tremble too badly to eat in his presence, but he knew that once he was done the food would vanish rapidly into hungry mouths.
Which was well enough. Let them serve him. Love he would find elsewhere.
Love he sought, actually, in only one place.
Lifting his gaze to the stairway that entered the dining chamber from the left, he tried to imagine her descending to join
him. Did his best to envision the fluid succession of perfect curves and contours concealed by clinging ripples of satin and
silk, the hair like ribbons of night draped across bare shoulders that put the finest ivory to shame, and the eyes that were
like sapphires. Eyes that he would have given half a world to have focused on him.
He imagined her approaching, not walking but flowing like mercury across the floor, weight shifting sensuously with each step,
lips of blood-red brighter than his armor parting slightly as she raised one delicate hand to place it on his shoulder and
whisper in the voice that turned men’s legs to jelly and set their groins ablaze, “Good morning, My Lord.”
Little enough, he agonized inside, to want. Little enough. Yet even now, after all this time, the best he could
hope for was that she would not curse him aloud in his presence. She would eat later, he knew. In her room, or after members
of the entourage he had assigned to her had assured her he had left to attend to matters of state. He possessed no more of
her presence than he did of her passion.
Suddenly the morning no longer seemed so propitious. The food curdled in his mouth. Angrily, he pushed his plate away, and
the two servitors attending him twitched visibly. Neither man ran, however. They knew all too well the fate of those who had
fled the presence of the Possessed without first being properly dismissed.
Leaning back in the high, sculpted chair of carmine cobal, he rested his armored chin against one massive fist and brooded.
After several minutes, the two servants exchanged a glance. The one who had lost the wordless debate took a step forward.
His voice was deferential and suffered from only a slight quavering.
“Lord, if you are finished, should we clear away the dishes?”
He waved an indifferent hand. “Yes, yes, take it away. Take it all away!”
Bowing obsequiously and repeatedly, the man and his companion began to remove the masses of food and flatware. Hymneth sulked
in his chair, contemplating aspects of life and death to which most living creatures were not privy, until a loud crash penetrated
his pondering and brought his head around.
The second servant, a well-built and comely youth of some twenty and four years, was kneeling over the fragments of a shattered
enameled tray. Muffins and sweet rolls, breads and breakfast cakes were still rolling away in
several directions. From his crouch, he looked up to see the helmeted head staring down at him. The look on his face was
one of sheer paralyzed terror.
“L-lord, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I—I will pay for it.” Hastily, he began sweeping the larger fragments into a pile, not caring
if he cut himself on the fractured ceramic.
“Pay for it? It would take six months of your wages, lackey. I wouldn’t think of taking that from you. It would be cruel.
In the absence of your salary I am sure you have loved ones who would go hungry. Besides, it’s only a plate. In this castle
there are hundreds of plates.”
“Yes—yes, Lord.” Some of the terror drained from the man’s face. He swept faster, trying to gather up every last shard and
“However,” Hymneth continued, “while I could care less about a plate, you broke something else. Something much more valuable.”
“Something else, Lord?” The attendant looked around helplessly, seeing nothing but broken crockery and spilled baked goods.
Next to him, the other servant was already backing away, straining desperately to make himself invisible, discorporeal, nonexistent.
“Yes.” The Possessed sat up straighter in his grand chair. “My train of thought. And that I cannot abide.” One huge, powerful
arm rose slowly.
“No, Lord, please!”
The other attendant turned away and wrapped his arms around his head so he would not be able to see what was coming. A twitch
of sickly green leaped from Hymneth’s armored hand, writhing and coiling like a giant heartworm. It struck the kneeling servant
on the back of his neck. Instantly his entire body arched rearward as if struck by a
heavy hammer. With a muffled scream he snapped forward to lie prone on the floor, arms outstretched to both sides, unconscious.
Wearied by this constant need to discipline his staff, Hymneth slumped back into his chair and waved diffidently. “Take him
out of here. Then come back and clean up the rest of this mess.”
Shaking violently, the other servant slowly removed his hands from around his head and straightened. When he saw the figure
of his friend lying on the floor, he screamed. It caught halfway in his throat, broken by the realization that the noise might
offend the looming figure seated at the head of the table.
“Well?” the Possessed admonished him tersely. “Get on with it.”
“Yes—yes, my Lord.” Fighting to control his trembling, the other man reached down and grasped the unconscious servant by his
wrists. Slowly, he began to drag the limp body from the room.
“Throw some water on him,” Hymneth ordered. “He’ll be all right. And maybe from now on he won’t drop dishes when I’m thinking.”
The other attendant did not reply. The Possessed’s meaning was clear. Indeed, it would be much harder for the young servant
to drop dishes or anything else. Because he now had four limbs to carry them with: his two arms, and the pair of slick, green,
sucker-laden tentacles that had sprouted noisomely from his shoulders.
“And when he comes around, tell him that he’s still on full pay!” Hymneth remembered to shout to the rapidly retreating menial.
Am I not the soul of tolerance and understanding?
As always, it was a puzzlement to him why his people did not love him openly, instead of from within the pit of fear.
Dispensing such magnanimity always made him feel better. He had started to rise when Tergamet entered. One of his many advisers,
he was subordinate to Peregriff, who was no doubt even now reviewing his Lord’s schedule for the day. Tergamet was wise, and
the master of a magnificent long beard, but he had a regrettable tendency to tell Hymneth what he thought the Possessed wanted
to hear, instead of the truth. Perhaps this was understandable, in light of the warlock’s occasional tendency to set ablaze
specific portions of the anatomy of the attendants in his vicinity whenever a piece of particularly disagreeable news was
conveyed to him. In that respect, he supposed Tergamet was braver than most.
“Yes, what is it?”
“And how is my Lord this morning?” The elderly adviser bowed as low as his aging back would allow.
“Impatient, as always. So don’t bother inquiring after my condition. I know that you, as much as everyone else in this benighted
pile of stone, would rejoice at the sight of me dead.”
Tergamet fluttered a protesting hand. “Oh no, Lord! How can you think to say such a thing to me, one of your most trusted
and loyal retainers!”
“I don’t trust anyone, old man, and loyalty is a commodity to be bought, like expensive wine and cheap women.” His irritation
was growing. “What news? Not the harbor pilots again, with this nonsense about Krakens interfering with their work. I’ve told
them how to fight back, and what poisons to use.”
“No, Lord. It is not the harbor pilots.” Eyes that still saw
sharply rose to nearly meet his. “It is the Worm, Lord. It wishes to speak with you.”
Hymneth considered, then nodded slowly. At this news, the two small eromakadi that attended his ankles danced excitedly around
his legs. Termaget was careful to keep them in view. Simple contact with either one could suck the life out of a man. The
Possessed they merely bounced off like agitated spaniels.
“The Worm, you say. What about?”
The senior adviser bowed again and spread his arms wide. “I do not know, my Lord. It will speak only to you.”