The goblins had to be fed. The temporary fix had been to give them enough freedom to hunt the mountainous countryside. Unfortunately, this was inconvenient in the extreme because it required that he monitor the hunting parties closely. This meant Doden needed to go into trance state and go astral. That, he knew, would make him vulnerable while it lasted, yet he did it several times since the migration of the goblins. It was not a terribly pressing concern because he could lock himself away in his chamber and leave draugs to guard the door. He did however, believe he’d been spreading himself thin of late and wished that there was someone he could trust that was talented in the arcane arts that could share the workload. Alas, because of who he was as well as how he was, it seemed there was no one of that description. Trust was, after all, a commodity dearly bought and given, and even if there was someone who loved him enough to be worthy of his trust, it was simply not in his emotional composition to love or to trust.
There was an individual who possessed the ability, knowledge and training to assist Doden and this one would be controllable for he’d been locked into subjugation decades ago. The continued control over this slave as well as all the other facets of his machinations for world domination, had been taking a devastating physical and psychological toll. He stood now before a full-length mirror shocked at the image that looked back at him. Where once stood a tall, robust and imposing figure, now stood a stooped and haggard wraith-like apparition. Once he wore the finest black robes embossed with silver-threaded embroidery that now hung threadbare and dragged the floor. His once swarthy and handsome visage was now drawn and wizened. The piercing eyes seemed to peer out from two hollow caves. He shivered and made a mental note to try to take more nutrition and get more rest. Now, however, he would call the one he needed.
He thought of the last time he’d seen his old friend and shuddered at the depths of his own treachery, at the horrific lengths he had, and would again sink to in the effort to fulfill his inhuman plans. He sighed and dug in the quarry of his excuses to mine some justification for his actions but that was a fruitless endeavor. He was evil. He knew that now but it was too late; too late for any redemption; too late to make amends; too late to care. The only thing that would come close to justification at this point would be the ultimate success of his plans, and so he settled into his throne and searched the ether. He had trouble in the extreme these days finding tranquility for such business. There was no more any such thing as peace of mind for Doden the Dark Lord. He would have to make do with callousness. He knew full well the depths of the hatred his old confederate bore for him and he used that to steel himself to this communication. Finally, steeped in a deep and feelingless calm that only true evil can know in the face of such atrocity, he called…Verminard.
Verminard would have been content to quietly die in oblivion, buried in his cave deep in the earth, but that was not to be his fate and he knew it. Now, as he reached the floor of the Heldahl Valley, the sun had long since set and a crescent moon was hanging lazily above the distant Voldsom range. The landscape before him was speckled with the light of many hundreds of campfires and he knew there would be warm life there. He wanted to run full speed toward food, for he starved. He calmed himself for he knew that he must conserve what strength was left to him and where there was life, there’d also lay danger. Verminard stopped, took a deep breath and focused his attention straight ahead. He threw his head back and smelled the air. There was the distinctly acrid odor of smoke and unwashed bodies. He steeled himself and stealthily set out across the valley floor stopping frequently to listen and cast about for any pertinent scent.
As he moved closer to the encamped trulls he stopped more and more frequently. He knew he must exercise extreme caution now, yet he was so famished and was salivating so heavily that now, his chin and chest were slick with spit. The more he drooled, the more dehydrated he became and realized that he must make a kill soon or perish. His expressionless face would have grinned at the irony if it had still held any vestige of humanity. The inclination to lie down and let nature take its course was overwhelming but he was compelled and driven by forces beyond his control. He plodded forward peering cautiously into the night. The distance to the encampment was so great that it seemed he was walking and making no progress at all and his patience was beginning to fray. Still, He plodded on. Soon he was close enough to see tiny figures dart to and fro.
Suddenly, in the murky distance, he noted movement and suddenly froze, recognizing it for what it was. Two figures were moving in his general direction but at a slight angle. He flanked them keeping as covert as possible and before long he could hear them and realized they were arguing. He gauged where their tracks would intersect and hurried to that position. He spied a lone outcropping of stony hillock. Once there, he hunkered down and waited.
“Stop yer damned nattering. You’re just like a bleeding ol’ woman.” The bigger of the two trulls was carrying a purloined cask of mead and the smaller was needling and cajoling about something.
“I stole the bleedin’ thing. I says we’re far enough. Nobody’ll catch us here. I wants me share an’ I s…Oof!” Bastardo, the larger of the trulls punched Crapnoggin square in the ear, dropping him roughly to the grass and stifling any further complaint. He pulled his dagger and dug out the bung from the cask splashing the liquor down his gullet, chin and shirt.
Crapnoggin lifted himself heavily of the ground saying, “Why you stinkin’ sonomabitch! I oughta…”
Bastardo pushed the cask roughly into Crapnoggin’s chest stalling any further complaint. “Shaddup ‘n’ drink.”
They passed the cask back and forth for an hour and when they started slurring, Verminard knew he would not have long to wait. Suddenly Bastardo rose and walked to within feet of Verminard’s position. He dropped his trousers and began to urinate, barely missing Verminard. While he was shaking it off, the man-spider pounced. He sunk his fangs deep into the trull’s chest eliciting a whimpering, painful wail from him. He stepped back and waited for the venom to take effect while Bastardo fell to his knees gurgling and foaming from the mouth and nose.
Hearing the death throes of his partner, Crapnoggin laughed and called, “Ha! Better have the healer crone take a look at that.” He guzzled down as much of the mead as he could and was pleased to drain the cask. Hearing a noise behind him he glance blithely over his shoulder. “Sorry, no more for you, mate.”
In a raspy voice Verminard said, “Oh, there’s more than enough,” and sunk his fangs into the trull’s back.
The man/spider let the venom do its work and plodded back to his first victim. Paralized and groggy, Bastardo nevertheless was aware as Verminard began to feed. As agonizing as the pain and horror of the realization of his fate was, the hapless trull could only scream inwardly as he felt the acid of this monster’s digestive juices liquefy his flesh and muscle tissue. Finally Verminard let his mandibles and pincers masticate his meal, and while the very act was repulsive, even to himself, he relished the nourishment.
Within the hour, Veminard was fully restored and sated and skirting the trull encampment. Far behind him were two shriveled trull husks and an empty cask in the prairie grass.