|Glotra the Collector
The heavy silence surrounding the rusting freighter that was anchored in the harbor was broken suddenly by muted guttural roars and the faint sounds of flesh wetly slapping on bloody flesh.
Within the ship's cavernous hold, Minerva watched as her mutant creation feasted on the corpses -- mostly itinerant sailors and harbor drunkards -- that her minions had been gathering for weeks. This mutant is so methodical, she thought. Time after time, the muscular thing would shuffle over to a distended corpse, bellow at it, then whip back the seaweedlike growths along its spine. Then it pummeled its meal into a bloody jelly with its massive forearms before drooping its mouth-tentacles into the ruin of flesh and splintered bone. After consuming the corpse with a wet slurping, it shuffled over to a new corpse and roared at it, beginning again.
Minerva rolled a bloodstained carpet across the catwalk above the hold and spread out her arcane implements: golden sickle, silver mirror, wavy-bladed dagger, and yellowing tomes.
"You are ready, Xihouto." A command with an implicit question.
"As you say, mistress," replied a quavering voice from the hold. Minerva peered over to see that her sorcerous apprentice was still safe behind the eldritch barrier she'd painted on the deck of the ship's hold. Around the elderly man were the beakers, canisters, and other receptacles of the alchemist's trade.
"When it consumes the last sailor, I'll summon the next aspect. Be ready with the Hyarektal Dust -- I want this to go quickly," Minerva said.
We've been in a hurry so much lately, but this won't work if I rush it, Minerva thought. Since Viktor's surprise attack at the amusement park, Minerva had been on the run: first to a mountain temple, then a bayou village, and now this freighter. Not that I don't enjoy a chase, she thought. But ten years ago, I got away from him so perfectly, and this time he's pushing me hard.
But in every sense of the word, I'm not the same person I was back then. And I suppose I have Viktor to thank for that. And for this.
Minerva swept back her red hair, then unclasped the silver chain around her neck. Dangling from it was an ivory sphere. A quick twist of the sphere's lower half, and a carefully folded piece of parchment fell into Minerva's hand.
It's only one page. But that's enough.
Raising her arms to the air, she began to read the prayers and incantations written on the page. "Oh Glotra, daughter of consumption and greed, attend to me! Consume this consumer of flesh, that you may together feast without ceasing!"
The air in the hold shimmered, then seemed to crack apart like a shattered window pane. With a hissing roar, a reptilian, winged creature suddenly appeared in the hold. It opened its slavering maw, vomiting forth bloodstained golden coins, then charged the seaweed mutant, blithely picking at the bones of the last corpse.
Stretching its mouth beyond what biology would allow, Glotra gulped down the mutant, then began to change itself. Its wings took on a tattered, kelplike texture, and it rose up on its hind legs, its spine shortening until it took on a twisted, bipedal shape.
Minerva smelled copper. Raising her hand to her face, she realized that her nose was bleeding from the exertion of the incantation. That took more out of me than I thought. But I can't stop now.
"The dust, Xihouto!"
From behind the barrier, the old man hurled a leather packet at Glotra, who dropped to all fours to sniff at it. Then the abomination collapsed, its bulk making the entire hold shiver as it fell.
Minerva cast weary eyes down at the sleeping form of her creation.
"I need a moment to rest. Tell me again about Peru, Xihouto."
"We have the crew waiting, mistress. And yes, they're . . . obedient. We sail south, and in a matter of weeks we can have the whole operation running from the Ruined Altar of Temachtoplac. You know what my ancestors did there. You know what power it holds." Indeed I do, thought Minerva. "And the cults here in the States?"
"The town of Fish Harbor remains, of course. We move Esteban's followers down there immediately, and we encourage pilgrimages to Peru among the Church of Unified Light. The local villagers near the site expect a flame-headed incarnation to appear soon."
"Flame-headed? A nice touch, Xihouto. Although I think I'll make for myself an ebony skin this time. I haven't done that in years."
"As you say, mistress. You should rest, for you have indeed created a horror beyond measure."
"We're not done yet, Xihouto. My last creation didn't go far enough, and that's a mistake I'm not going to make again." Minerva furrowed her brow. "Xihouto, feed both of those flasks into its maw. Quickly -- before it awakes -- then get back behind the barrier. Minerva turned to page through a second grimoire, stopping at a page dark with scribbled, angular text.
"Arise, Feculus, Lord of the Sewer! I join thee with Glotra! Arise and become one with horror!"
Wet, popping sounds filled the dank air of the hold as a green-brown foam seeped upward from the deck. Larger bubbles of a bilious green grew within the foam, clustering together and climbing upward. The mass began to move like an ocean wave, surging toward the unconscious form of the Glotra abomination.
Pooling around the mutated dragon, the slimy liquid began to extrude itself through Glotra's nose and mouth, streaming upward like a waterfall in reverse. Glotra's skin began to distort and bubble, while ripples and waves grew visible beneath its scaly skin. The abomination's squat legs disappeared into its expanding bulk as it began to liquefy.
The creature's eyes snapped open suddenly. Raising itself on its still-massive forearms, it considered its new form: draconic wings and a reptile's maw, but with the pallor and tentacles of the mutant it consumed. And fetid, bubbling slime had replaced its lower body, carrying it around on a wave of liquid filth.
The abomination roared it triumph as it surged across the hold and beat its arms against the bulkhead.
"It is done. Behold what I have wrought -- an abomination that will help me darken the very stars!" Minerva staggered before her work table, wild-eyed and grinning, her chin and mouth wet with her own blood.
"As you say, mistress," said Xihouto. He bowed and departed, careful to conceal two still-full flasks of a black-flecked liquid.
Scurrying to his cabin, he gently laid the flasks in a dark, wooden box beneath his bunk. "Yes, darken the very stars, I'm sure. But without the serums here, your abomination's sense of obedience may be somewhat . . . malleable."
To be continued...
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