Outer Flower, 43

Strange Shapes; Strange Sights

Woman sporting boar’s head

Elymas poured out the last of the wine, then dropped the bottle, kicking it. He wanted to hear it crash against the stones. However, for all his force, the bottle rolled only a few inches from his foot and stopped. He simply stared, blaming the wine and a sudden onset of fatigue. Only finish this last glass and surely the Frennin White would relax the muscles that tensed like cords in his neck. He leaned his head against the back of the throne and closed his eyes.

He may have slept. He may have thought he did. Whatever the case, he was awakened by the sound of shadows. Shadows with form and substance, lacking only blood. Shadows skittered across the ceiling, swam the floor, pounded the walls. Hideous shadows: grotesque faces, half men, dripping babes, fierce beasts the like of which he’d never seen.

Transfixed in horror, Elymas watched as they flattened themselves against the walls, hoping they’d leave, because every time they came forward, they were worse, joined in hideous ways.

A tightness began in his chest and his vision blurred. Elymas set aside the goblet of wine and rubbed his eyes with both fists. He knew himself to be a rational man, not given to fancy and confident in his pursuit of the immutable mysteries, yet he’d just seen a shadowy group of women sporting boar’s heads at the far door.

Dementia often occurred in the final stages of Lud Sellum poisoning, and Elymas wondered if this were happening now. With a mind clarified by fear, he once again saw himself in the workroom mixing the poison with especial care and, no, no, there was nothing. Not a drop had been spilled.

Elymas hunkered down on the throne. There was no chance of simply walking out. The gentle pool of shadows was now a raging sea; the gliding shadows he’d likened to small fishes were massed and frenzied, waiting to feed. A gar lifted it head, exposed one tooth and snapped.

Elymas could only open his mouth, too scared to scream.

He watched as a long dark shape took precedence over the rest, coiling and uncoiling with uncanny speed. A conarudda was down there, he realized with terror, what the fisherman called a striker eel. They were fast and deadly with teeth that sliced like blades and what, by all the gods foul and fair, was it doing here?

A movement at the far door caused him to look up. The women with the boar’s heads were beckoning again, and now the one in the middle, the tallest, stepped toward him.

He screamed, a high, mewling sound.

The woman vanished into air.

As did the others.

The room was vacant again. There was no movement, save for the flickering caused by the torches and the howl of the wind.

Elymas reached for the bottle and turned it up. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, wiped again. He’d just suffered some sort of hallucination, but what had brought it on, he couldn’t say. When he reached his secret chamber, his first act would be to mix a rejuvenating drink. He’d pushed himself to the limit, and now his body and mind were breaking under his superior will. He’d never tested his limits before but if poisoning the King and his councilor, deceiving all the Skylls, and imprisoning a messenger from the Shautu — Oren Whitehair, no less — were his limits, so be it. This night had been hard on his soul, or what was left of it, but he’d allow nothing to stop his plans from coming to fruition.

The homunculous must be fed.

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