Along Came a Spider

Sandor Szabo

" ... shaVathath ktal Nakrah !" the wizard's rasping invocation rose to a crescendo. Billowing clouds of sulphurous smoke obscured the ultradimensional space inside an iron pentagram. The dank underground chamber was a long time clearing of the fumes, which added an ochre tinge to the nitre-crusted walls.

The sorcerer's wheezing inhalations resounded in sudden silence as he tottered closer to the pentagram. Cacodemoniacal flames had melted the floor's granite flags and the wrought-iron pentagram like so much candle wax. Residual heat from the molten rock singed the grey hairs of the wizard's outreaching hand. His screech however was not from pain but a mixture of incredulous shock and bitter disappointment. The curiously carved opus-wood effigy of his nemesis, Maal Dweb, lay unharmed on the cooling slag.

The twittering mirth of the wizard's seraphim brought his head about, features set in a snarl. "Thaisadon damn you, Aliif! You dare mock my necromancies? 'Ware lest I abjure you to the frozen hell whence you were convoked!"

The miniature features of Soloch's (for such was the wizard's common — though of course not his True — name) most capable seraphim displayed only merriment. Its piping voice mimicked that of Soloch's long deceased father.

"Not your karcistry wrought my release from the glacial prison of Ikyythis, dread lord, nor are you in possession of the Tolomethine Script. That puissant grimoire eludes your glamours in the same fasion as Maal Dweb's life force."

The grizzled enchanter bit back a scathing retort and instead surveyed the ruins of his once immaculate thaumaturgic pentagram. At least four moons to construct another and imbue its mithril-inlayed ironwork with the necessary theuregies. And time seemed to flow so quickly of late.

Soloch wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his gnarled hand and trudged over to his great oaken lectern. He nearly collapsed from his recent exertions but managed the requisite aeromantic gestures that transformed the murky jacinth of his scrying orb into a wavering image.

In its depths Soloch gazed intently at the figure of Maal Dweb, unequaled arch-mage, apostate of Thaisadon and Soloch's sworn enemy. The unprepossessing wizard sat at a convivial feast in his marble and crystal manse, drinking the amber wine of far Fillor. He jested with two winsome lasses to his left and one of the maidens laughed uproariously while her companion blushed an attractive shade of pink. Soloch peered closely at his face for signs of putrefaction and scowled at the salubricious, ruddy glow of health on the jocular spellbinder's face.

The flitting of Aliif's diaphanous triple wings alerted him that the seraph also viewed the preturnatural scene. With a grunt betraying the effort his clairvoyance demanded, Soloch allowed the sphere to dim and slumped back in his capacious chair.

Aliif's tinkling voice whispered with his mother's tones in his ear, "Dread lord, some impermeable aegis appears to ward your rival, shielding him from your sendings. Perhaps your necromantic research was not thorough enought to espy this beneficent agent? Unless of course, the ascendency of your diablerie is on the wane ..."

Soloch paused, startled for a breathless moment as if having heard a blunder in a perilous incantation that would wreak the doom of the conjurer. Then he shook his head stubbornly and declared, "Nonsense, imp. You forget your place. I am Soloch the Resplendent, whose thaumaturgy leveled the towers of Yuundal and obliterated the Tarkellian League. Ever I delve more deeply into the recondite mysteries at the dark heart of wisdom. Soon I shall eclipse Maal Dweb and assume the Lordship of Xiccarph, the six planets and all their moons, and ..."

"And become the chief wine bibber at Maal Dweb's hall, no doubt. Dread lord, how are you to usurp the archimandrite's manse if you cannot even magick away the grey of your beard?"

Soloch blinked in disbelief at the impudent and suddenly acerbic seraph, who had already turned to tease a glass-encased homunculus on cluttered bookshelf.

"How now, Aliif?" he queried slowly and a dangerous light entered his eyes. "It occurs to me that you have observed all my sendings against Maal Dweb, whether I had summoned you hence or not."

Aliif chattered on, oblivious to the sinister undertone of its master's discourse. "Yes, dread lord, I've witnessed your futile occultations of late: the Soomish plague, the hacking lung rot, the speckled decrepitation, the necrotic sludge. All very nasty to a human's corporeal shell, certes."

It flicked a speck of lotus pollen from the lip of a crystal alembic and yawned behind a wafer-thin hand. "How nice not to subsist entirely in your plane of existence."

Soloch's features had grown increasingly choleric and almost without volition his thickly veined fingers traced eldritch runes in the air behind Aliif with vermicular dexterity.

"Yet my faithful servant," he spat, "even to the depths of your demiempyreal plane this dweomer shall smite you!"

Lambent bolts of emerald flame flashed from his mantically contorted fingers toward the slim spriteling ... and instantly rebounded with a thousandfold violence at the stunned wizard! Caught unawares, Soloch had no time to form a counterward or utter even the simplest cantrip ere the green levin bolts pierced and ravaged his frail body. In an instant the great spellbinder was reduced to a charred and smoking skeleton.

The diminutive sylph-like form of the seraphim Aliif began to expand and polymorph, developing physical substance. Had any eyes been present in the slain wizard's atelier they would have seen a smile of deep satisfaction spread across the face of the now wholly corporeal and peerless arch-mage, Maal Dweb.

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