"Master! Master!," an excited squeak echoed through the corridor. "I bring gracious news!" There was no reply, only greeted with an answer of silence. The servant scratched his head in irritation. He was sure that his master was here, as he usually answers his calls. Perhaps his master was concentrating on a task? He tried again. "Master! Master! I have brought news!" There was silence again.
Then after a few minutes, a deep, rumbling voice sounded from the throne room, seeming to reverberate across the walls themselves, as loud and as intimidating as a mountain. "Bulbozar! Please do come in, my dear servant." The voice had an edge to it as if the words were being spoken underwater, like bubbles rising from the mouth of a drowning man. The servant hurried into the room, eager to present his announcement.
However, he was too excited to deliver the news that he didn't notice a loose tile on the polished floor, and he tripped, falling flat on his face. "My goodness, what a disappointment. And I thought my last servant was clumsy." spoke the master. As Bulbozar got to his feet in embarrassment, he gazed in wonder at the scene before him. He always knew the room was quite mesmerizing, but Bulbozar couldn't get used to it, even after the first time.
It was a high-ceilinged chamber of unknown composition, made up of a material that greedily absorbs any source of natural light, rendering the room itself devoid of sunshine. The chamber was hexagonally-shaped, with each side there was a knife-slit arch, leading to other areas of the complex. On the ceiling hung a crooked chandelier, shaped as if it was a claw attempting to grab the chain that held it in place.
Candles burned in the slots of the chandelier, giving off an eerie purple glow that gleamed off the walls. Each candle gave off a lilac flame, which seemed to be dancing in the gloom. Paintings of watery landscapes decorated the spaces between the arches, the flickering of the candle flames gave the illusion of moving water, as if the paintings themselves had come to life.
Broken rubble sat in the corners, coated with dust and decaying timber, sometimes accompanied by dismembered mannequins. Clusters of rusted armor and weapons littered the floor, forming a foul circle of decomposition and corrosion. In the center of the room stood a throne, a thing of marble and polished amethyst, decorated with dashing spirals, circles, and various symbols that he did not recognize.
On top was perched a figure, clad in dark robes emblazoned with gold markings which drew the eye. Its hands grasped the arms of the throne in frustration, each finger ending in a tentacle oozing with slime. Its skin was the color of plums, the surface shifting constantly like a purple mist, giving off a glow of the same color; combining with the lilac tint of the chandelier, it looked truly mystical.
The figure's legs consisted of webbed feet, usually suited to an undersea environment; the fins were tinged cyan blue, with a hint of pink. The head was hidden behind a mask of reflective glass, disorienting the viewer as they looked back at their mirror image; if one should look closely, some poorly-disguised facial tentacles could be seen behind the mask, spilling out from underneath. The mask itself emanated an abnormal glow of purple, barely visible to the untrained eye, but establishing the effect of an otherworldly origin; the creature displayed a visage of cosmic energy, an entity unbound by time or space, with uncontested astronomical power.
Around the figure orbited projectiles of many shapes; some resembled galaxies, stars, and black holes. Others resembled symbols and sigils of an ancient language long forgotten by eons of dust and war. All were bathed in the fiery tint of shadow flame, glinting like polished metal. It was beautiful in its own way, and yet largely intimidating.
"So, my servant," asked the master, "what is the so very desperate news that you bring to me at this fine hour?"
"My lord, the enemy outpost has fallen from within. Our armies have claimed victory, and are marching towards Galbachia."
The master lapsed into silence, deep in thought on what his next move would be. At last, after a few moments, he spoke again, louder this time.
"Our armies have not claimed victory yet, not until the Guardians have been thoroughly eradicated, with their lore, teachings, prophecies, and other works being annihilated along with them, so that they would not corrupt the world with their vile delusions."
He paused to take in a breath, though it sounded more like a labored wheeze as if it was an ancient man sitting in that throne instead of an otherworldly entity.
"We have won the battle, but we have not won the war. The Guardian plague has to be stopped before it spreads more corruption in the lands. Here." The master revealed a scroll, sealed in amethyst, seemingly from nowhere, handing it to Bulbozar. The servant accepted it without question, seemingly ignoring the ooze partly coating the scroll in strands of slime.
"Take this scroll to Riprazoad and the other generals. They will devise a battle plan using it. Or, in essence, to figure out the future."
He paused to breathe again, then continued.
"Bulbozar, leave me to think over the various scenarios. After I am finished, I will call you to help me retire to my quarters. Does that sound clear?"
The servant nodded, turning to leave the chamber.
"Bulbozar?", the master asked, causing the servant to stop.
"Yes?" The master flinched for a moment, then subsided.
"Tomorrow, are you able to prepare one of those traditional human meals? What is it called . . . a Pad Thai?"
The servant nodded, and then exited the room, a hint of a smile on Bulbozar's lips.
"Good, very good," replied the master in a husky whisper, as he leaned back to relax against the throne; drifting into a deep sleep, thinking only of the events to occur and the things to come, coated with an iron-clad desire of destroying the Guardians and their works. His jaw tightened in determination, then slackened as he found himself in the land of unconsciousness.
As he inhaled the cool, salty breeze of the Verak Ocean, the general sat up in his chair, fidgeting with a small pencil. He was supposed to be working, but at this moment, he was just relaxing.
Suddenly, a loud bang echoed through the room, making him jump as if he was stung. The door burst open, revealing a figure almost as tall as the door itself. "Gahh!", General Riprazoad exhaled, "Elmont, you bastard!"
"What on earth did I do, general?", asked Elmont.
"You didn't bloody knock on the damn door!"
"How was I supposed to know you were asleep, hmm?"
"I was resting, you daft plum. You could have knocked, you know? What, is it too hard to knock on a door? Are you afraid of knocking one or what? Seriously, just knock on the damn doo . . ."
Elmont, who was no longer paying any attention to Riprazoad's anger-filled ramblings, decided instead to observe his figure.
The general was short in stature, reaching around 3ft in height. But, ironically, he made for his height by being 4ft wide in life; his belly shaped as though he was in fact an over-inflated balloon, large and delicate. On top of the torso lay the general's head, the neck completely vanishing into the flab of his upper body. A crooked nose sprung out of Riprazoad's face, his two piggy eyes gleaming above a mouth set in an aggressive snarl. His pointed ears were covered with a mass of black hair, like a forest of dirt; dried earwax clung to his collar as if it was a necklace of grime and filth.
Elmont wondered how such an unhealthy creature came to be in the Legion, as usually, goblins were sticklers for tidiness and cleanliness. Unfortunately, this one was an exception. Instead of keeping the place pure, Riprazoad carried an aura of dirt everywhere he went, polluting anything and everything with rot and obscenities.
Ah well, Elmont thought, best turn my attention back to the general's vicious reprimanding. He focused his eyes back on Riprazoad as if he had been listening all that time. The general, however, took no notice of that slight gesture and carried on.
". . . and so that's why you should knock on the door, Elmont," he concluded, inhaling deeply. Riprazoad reached into his desk drawer with one of his greasy palms and rummaged around for some time, before drawing out a long, pointed cigar, and a tiny pocket-lighter. He lit the cigar and put it in his mouth, blowing out a cloud of smoke smelling of a coal furnace.
Elmont turned to leave, deciding to exit quietly as to not trigger the general again. On his way out, a figure brushed past Elmont, who was recognized as the Master's servant, Bulbozar. Elmont brushed his worries aside as he went to his barracks, walking along the path as the door to Riprazoad's office closed behind him.
Bulbozar looked down at Riprazoad's short-form; sitting in that filthy chair. What a miserable creature, he thought, to tarnish everything he touches with filth and dried feces, to sit in that chair like a slug curled up on the floor with utmost laziness. He's a sloth, not a general in the Legion. Well, we must need him for his battle strength, his utter ferocity, and hatred against the Guardian filth. After this war, however, we will deal with this fat little piglet. We shall run him out of the mud, right into the butcher's knife.
Scream. Chop-chop. Dead little Riprazoad.
Bulbozar licked his sunken lips at the thought, his hands rubbing with glee.
But not yet, not until the time has come. I have to prepare for death. Guns? Knives? Too conventional? Poison? Perhaps, but nothing that can be traced back to me. Fine, a knife would do. But what kind of knife? Ah, yes, a common peasant blade shalt do. And a disguise, yes. A disguise will work too. A farmer's garb? A peasant's robe? Or a foreign merchant's clothes? A peas . . .
"Hello, there! Do you need help there?, asked Riprazoad, interrupting Bulbozar's thoughts.
"No, but I have a message from the Master," replied Bulbozar, clearly irritated at something. Riprazoad was handed a scroll, bound in polished amethyst. The sign of the Master.
Bulbozar then turned, stalking away on his three feet, slamming the door behind him with a loud bang; ripping the door off its hinges and causing it to collapse onto the floor with a mighty thump.
Well, I guess we'll have to get a new door, thought Bulbozar. Oh wait, nevermind. Riprazoad can fix it himself. It's time he rose out of his laziness and got to work like the rest of us. Oh, and he should take a shower for once, too.
He recalled the air of the office, a stench of mold, vomit, and dried urine, as though Bulbozar had been walking up to his knees in raw sewage instead of standing in a plainly ordinary workstation.
It was the kind of odor that lingers for days, affecting anything you eat or drink, the smell of corruption.
Well, no matter, he thought, when the war is over and the land is purged of the Guardian filth, then that stench will no longer cling to my senses. For its owner will be dead, replaced with the scent of damp earth, flowers, and ashes.
The smell of a funeral.
And on he walked, plotting diabolically as he returned to his master's complex.