The line of slaves parted, allowing Rabdos easy access to the open quarry where the stone for his fortress under-construction was being cut. He forwent his usual pleasure of whipping the naked men with a lash of fire from his axe. His interests lay more in finding out what Malphas had meant by investigating how the mortar was made or stone cut for his tower.
Rabdos emerged from the crag onto a short shelf with a path that wound down into the deep quarry. He didn’t bother with the long path, leaping lithely off the edge instead and twirling his axe to create a disc of fire under his feet. The disc supported his weight and rapidly spiraled down to the floor of the quarry. As he descended he could see the stone mason imps swinging their little rock hammers and cutters vigorously.
Once on the floor of the quarry, Rabdos hastened his steps to come near the masons but controlled his speed enough not to look too eager. He approached the masons from the rear but they all knew he was there. As soon as there was no question he was going to approach, the masons all stopped working and turned to face him, bowing respectfully. Rabdos surveyed their work.
Most of the masons worked to cut and shape one stone or another into the next piece needed for the current course being laid above. Off to the right the raw stones were produced by an army of imps and slaves from the side of the quarry. Rabdos turned and headed in that direction kicking at the scuttling lemurs who worked to clear the massive detritus of chipped stone lying on the quarry floor.
The line of plodding slaves hid the cutting work from his view, but they woke from their stupor long enough to notice his approach and began to part like a sea of defeated naked men and women. As Rabdos approached, a demon about his size carrying an axe much like his own approached and bowed slightly but respectfully.
“Young master Rabdos, you arrive at last. How may the Stone Masons of the Pit serve you this day?” the demon said.
“I have come to see how the stone and mortar for my tower are made and secured,” Rabdos said, not entirely sure what he was looking for.
“Ah, a wise decision indeed, though I should have made that visit much sooner were I you,” the demon responded. Rabdos decided he didn’t like his tone. The Masons of the Pit were a caste unto themselves, directly serving Satan, but the Father of Darkness had given standing orders to follow the instructions of any demon or devil whose standing permitted him or her the luxury of the Mason’s services. This demon clearly believed he was above Rabdos.
“I don’t like your tone, Mason. Who are you again?” Rabdos inquired.
“I am Nebiros, Master Mason of the Pit in charge of this work crew and I answer only to our Father Below,” the Master Mason said placing his axe, the symbol of his power, directly between him and Rabdos.
“Indeed. I am aware of the hierarchy here. You do not answer to me, true, but you serve me as long as it is within the realm of building my stronghold and are required by the laws of Hell to keep my interests at the forefront while you serve me,” Rabdos said, knowing full well the laws of Hell were designed to be bent or broken so long as you weren’t caught.
Nebiros bowed deeply sweeping his hands to the sides but never taking his eyes off Rabdos. “True young master, true. I have kept watch as required and none have tampered with the stone or mortar that I have seen.”
That I have seen. That nuance was not lost on Rabdos. “Show me the wards,” he commanded.
“As you wish,” Nebiros said turning and striding purposefully toward the center of the quarry.
The two demons reached a point roughly a hundred yards from the working stone masons. There Nebiros raised his axe and whispered a few arcane words. The butt of the axe began to glow and Nebiros slammed the haft of the weapon firmly on the ground. The impact sent a shockwave spreading out across the floor of the quarry and up the walls. All along the edge of the quarry, in the air over the quarry, and on the floor of the quarry glowing runes appeared. Lord Malphas had spent countless hours drilling Rabdos in the runic alphabet. Rabdos had grown so bored with the drills he’d invented distractions to pass the time. Malphas had almost stopped tutoring him and Rabdos had worked very hard to convince him to stay. He was very glad of those drills now.
“I realize a young demon such as yourself hasn’t been exposed to enough runic magic yet but these runes are complete to keep out all interlopers opposed to your goals,” Nebiros said.
Rabdos worked hard to appear confused and not focus too much on the runes. “Yes, yes. They will keep out everyone? No exceptions? Nothing gets in or out that is opposed to me?”
“Nothing,” Nebiros confirmed. It was a lie and Rabdos knew it. He’d spotted the key inscription for the spell that was repeated everywhere. It did in fact ward the site from imp, demon, or direct servant who didn’t in fact work toward the goals Rabdos desired. He didn’t know how the spell knew what his goals were, but he did know two things had been cunningly omitted, lemurs and Nebiros himself.
Rabdos nodded his feigned satisfaction. “Show me the stones and mortar.”
Nebiros turned to lead Rabdos back to the quarry wall where the workers toiled. Several imps and a mob of slaves gathered around a large stone trough. As the two demons approached Rabdos began to hear screams coming from the area. He smiled. He hadn’t seen a good beating in an hour or so and thought perhaps he’d reward the imp administering the punishment if it turned out to be worthwhile. The mass of naked humans parted for their masters giving the two a good view of the workers and the trough.
Four of the imps held a screaming slave over the trough. A fifth demon flayed the man open with his claws, carving the flesh from the man’s very bones slowly and methodically while reciting the shaping incantation Rabdos already knew. Rabdos noticed the skin had been peeled away and dropped into the trough along with the bits of muscle as they were cut away. A sixth imp worked diligently to keep the man’s entrails contained but close enough so they could still function, keeping the man alive during the vivisection. The slurry in the trough transformed and flowed toward the opposite end as the sorcerous magic took effect.
“As you can see, we extract as much pain as possible to give the mortar a good, strong bond,” Nebiros said, waving at a bucket being filled by the spigot at the opposite end of the trough. “We then take what remains of that evil soul and combine it with others to form your stones.”
Nebiros shifted Rabdos’ attention to a form sitting atop a stone table. Four imps carried the writhing bones, covered now solely with bits of cartilage and connective tissues, toward the stone table. A fifth imp carried a bucket of entrails still connected to the poor soul as well. Once they arrived at the table the four who carried what used to be a human soul began folding and manipulating the bones to the point that all of it fit into the form. The imp with the bucket dumped his slop in on top. An imp at the table began reciting the incantation of shaping. Everything inside the form began to melt and flow down deeper into the container filling every crevice. When the chanting imp was done, two slaves came and flipped the form onto the ground where the imp slapped it. A newly made stone slide from the form. Rabdos thought he could see the eyes of the human soul still searching for an escape somewhere in the surface of the rock as two slaves picked it up and carried it to the stone masons for shaping and cutting.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. For more information about this story please join us on our Facebook page community at www.facebook.com/firstchevalierbooks.