Jer -- until recently Jeremiel, Ofanite of Trade -- couldn't help looking
around nervously as he followed his "guide". He hadn't really been sure what
Hell would be like... I mean, everyone hears things, but how can you know what
to trust?... but he certainly hadn't anticipated seeing so much of it, so
He couldn't help but think that Reynardine was enjoying his job a little too much. The Impudite had taken Lord Valefor's command -- "Show the kid around, would you?" -- to heart, it seems. After a somewhat perfunctory tour of Sin City, the two demons caught the Shal-Mari Metro to someplace in Perdition, proceeded to wander though some of the more dangerous areas of Tartarus, and had wound up -- somehow -- in the Archives. Jer wasn't sure, but from what little he'd picked up on as a participant in Infernal politics, Kronos' Principality was not the safest place to two Thieves to go a-wandering.
(Reynardine, of course, had sneered at his charge's weak objections. "Safe? Safe? Maybe I should just drop you here, you'ld fit right in!")
Still, the newly-Fallen Calabite had to admit that the experience so far had been very educational; so it was with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation that he followed Reynardine through the trapdoor and into what seemed to be a gallery. The walls were lined with paintings, and beneath each canvas was a brass plaque, no doubt identifying the subject. Jer peered at the nearest, which depicted a Balseraph, its body twisted to form arcane sigla, its eyes shining with hidden knowledge. The plate beneath it read GEBBELETH, followed by several lines of incomprehensible squiggles. "What is this place?," he asked his guide.
The Impudite looked around with some satisfaction. "The Chamber of Lessons, kid. As in, `learn from your mistakes'. This is where His Dry Wrinkledness keeps rememberances of ex-Princes. They say that only Lucifer, Kronos, and some of the higher-ups of Fate can get into this place," he added slyly. "Guess that last bit's not quite right, huh?"
Jer looked around, somewhat awed. A thousand human faces stared out from a painting across the room, somehow overlayed with a writhing mass (and he could see it writhe... were these just paintings?) of fog; LEGION was printed on its plate. A Calabite with gills; a slug-like Djinn; a Habbalite with his face disfigured by oozing sores... and these were just the largest and best-kept of the paintings.
In the centre of the room were two things: an easel, currently covered by a cloth of royal purple; and a glass case. In the glass case was a demon, a Habbalite, its face contorted in an expression of tortured concentration. This exhibit had no explanatory plate.
Reynardine followed the Calabite's gaze. "Ah, Kronos' prize exhibit. He's still alive, you know. You can even go and tap on the glass, if you like; he won't notice."
Jer glanced at his erstwhile mentor; the Impudite had lost his previous insouciance, and was gazing at the Habbalite with a sort of angry grin on his face. "Who... what is it?"
Reynardine turned to the Calabite. "You see before you Glshaad, Demon Prince of Kzhrrgh." Jer blinked; so far it had seemed that -- if you knew Angelic and happened to be a demon -- Helltongue just came naturally to you. The word "Kzhrrgh", however, brought no images to mind whatsoever.
His guide was still watching him, mockery in his look. "What, you've never heard of Kzhrrgh? Time was, it was one of the Big Ones; about six thousand years ago, there were whole nations where `evil' and `Kzhrrgh' were synonymous." Reynardine turned his face away, the grin fading. "You wouldn't have heard of them, either.
"The Lesson of Glshaad, kid, was this: don't screw around with Mariel." The demon's eyes flicked to a painting in a shadowy corner of the room, completely black except for a pair of eyes glaring out malevolently. "Prince Glshaad used to be the biggest thing going. He was clever, he was powerful, and he'd done his best to make himself indispensible. One of the few Princes Azzie trusted, and still welcome in Shal-Mari. In fact, he only ever made one real enemy."
"Got it in one, kid. Don't know what he did to make her mad, mind. I've heard that he's the one responsible for Gebby's disappearance, and he and Mariel were always close. I think, though, that she was just bitter. Glshaad wasn't first-Fallen, see; he came in later. Mariel always had this weird pride thing going, and it irked her that some angel could just waltz down, be given a Word, and parlay it into a Principality. So she sat, and she brooded, and then finally she acted."
Reynardine walked closer to the glass jar, gazing into the tormented face. "Mariel destroyed the Word of Kzhrrgh. She bent all of her power towards wiping away all memories of what the word meant. She sent her demons to Earth to wipe out the civilizations that gave Kzhrrgh its power, and then made sure that everyone forgot about them. And somehow, somehow, she even erased the sense of it from the Celestial language. Oblivion was a damned powerful Word, kid.
"And that was it for old Glshaad. He's still the Prince of Kzhrrgh, but he can't recall what that means anymore. He's been like this ever since: trying to remember the concept that's central to his very soul. And he can't, 'cause that curse meant more to Mariel than her life; if she'd been willing to let go, she could have defended herself against Haagenti.
"In fact," the Impudite continued, grinning again, "I've heard a rumour that offing Mariel was the real reason behind Kobal's venture in kingmaking. After her little stunt, the rest of the hierarchy was scared stiff of Mariel; if Kobal wanted to get rid of her, he needed someone who wouldn't know any better... like a demon who was created centuries after the fact and who was generally preoccupied anyhow. Makes ya think, huh?"
Jer was glancing uneasily between his guide and the fallen Prince. "Hey Reynardine, you seem to know all about this. Why?"
"Because, kid, Glshaad had Servitors, same as any Prince. And one of them was me. Hell, I'm still attuned to the Word of Kzhrrgh. Every now and then I'll see a human, and a little bell goes off in the back of my mind, and I know that there's one."
"Kid, haven't you been listening? I don't know one what. If I knew, then I'd know what Kzhrrgh meant, and I don't. No one knows that. Come on, let's go." The Impudite gave Glshaad one last glare and stormed back towards the secret passage that had given them admittance. "You still haven't seen Hades yet."
On his way out, Jer resisted the impulse to peek under the purple drape and see the painting in progress beneath. He wasn't sure what Kronos might do to him, but it seemed that death wasn't the worst thing that Hell could dish out.
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