Seriously, don’t read this if you’re eating or have a weak stomach.
Also I guess it helps to know that Gerard Houseman is/was a vampire.
Casey flinched at the unexpected shriek. Apparently even the true death hadn’t ended Houseman’s torment.
“And who was it you were speaking to just a moment ago?” Mardmor repeated.
Her eyes cut back to him, widening. “There was no one here! What made you think I was speaking to someone?”
“Who is Usi?” he asked.
Crap crap crap crap crap.
“I have no idea. Why do you ask?”
Mardmor smiled at her, his green eyes spark with dark knowledge.
Houseman’s eyes fluttered, his jaw working…eyes widening, he looked about the room, finally they fell on Casey. “I…I know you.” The head stuttered, “You drove the truck. With Falco.”
“Falco?” Mardmor asked.
Casey stared at the talking head in appalled dismay. Whoever said dead men tell no tales had apparently never been to Austin.
But a moment later she seemed to shake herself out of her speechless horror of the grisly object and pull herself together. “Um, yeah. Brandon Falco, he’s a regular customer at the bar where I work. I gave him a ride home last night.”
“Ohhhhh…” The head groaned. “…Ohhh… I feel awful.” It grimaced, eyes flashing to Mardmor. “I can’t move…” Houseman’s head looked to Casey. “We’re both prisoners, then? Of this guy?”
Casey struggled to conceal her frustration. She knew she should probably be feeling sorry for the unfortunate Mr. Houseman, but all she could think is that one incautious statement from him could snowball into ruin. “Yes.”
The head frowned.
For the first time, she addressed the head directly, keeping her tone as neutral, even pleasant, as she could manage. “Forgive my manners. 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 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 tilted her head, considering. “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 laid 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 as a chill ran down her spine. “Now is the time for truth.”
“No!” Houseman cried, “Wait!”
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 before.
“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.
The pain setting in, 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!”