The Shadow Lands
A woman known for crudity and violence, Obyzouth came to Ebony Valley looking for a drink, a fight, and a tickle, in any order she could get them. Mostly, however, she came as one of the drovers of a trade caravan willing to give the new kingdom a try.
The place was said to have money, gems, and metals dug from the heart of the world by Drow. But no Drow could make those things into anything useful. For that, artisans were needed, and Obyzouth drove a wagon piled high with woven carpets and other crafted commodities from the southern kingdom of Zed, named after the brutal Lord whom rules it. These had been commissioned for a good weight of those gems she’d heard about, and once the trade was complete, the caravan would continue through the mountains to Daji Mahji and see if maybe they could buy some even more valuable goods brought across the sea from Roth, which they’d take home and sell for tremendous profit.
Not that the logistics really mattered to Obyzouth. She left that kind of thinking to her employer and focused on driving her oxen, at least until they reached a town where there was beer to drink, fights to start, and women to bed. She’d never been to Ebony Valley, but from what she’d heard it was chock full of wh^res. She’s even heard they slept with the Drow, which made no sense to her. Those damn things weren’t even literate most of the time.
The convoy arrived in the valley in late afternoon, the oxen blowing and men shouting over the creaking of the wagons. Yelling at her own beasts, Obyzouth guided them through the street. It didn’t look like any warehouse she had ever seen before, though. It was made from a solid piece of stone, veins of metal running through it like some sort of disease. It loomed before them, its front a massive door that stood open.
The buildings they passed to get there were exactly the same in that they were all totally unique. Obyzouth saw shops where walls were transparent or where the roof reached into the sky a dozen or more stories. The roads were smooth stone, the sidewalks raised, and every block had a stairwell leading underground. To see people going in and out by way of those stairs was bizarre. What kind of man lived underground, or in a building that looked like the wind could knock it down? All the buildings seemed almost sickeningly fragile. The whole place might fall on you! Better was a proper house made of wood or stone, with a real thatched roof.
Still, she thought, this place mightn’t be so horribly bad. She watched a trio of women cross the street, darting past her wagon while the way was clear. They were laughing over something, their faces bright with smiles. One of them even wore pants like a man, and Obyzouth appreciatively regarded the place where her legs met her body. They had to be whores to dress like that.
An earth Gnome trundled past, looking like a little mud-shaped girl. Obyzouth gave it a quick look, but otherwise kept her eyes on the women. She whistled at them. They looked back but kept walking, giggling. She grinned. This would be a good night.
Ahead, the wagons turned to pass through a wide doorway leading into the warehouse. Standing by the door, a fat man with sweat on his face gestured them all inside, shouting for them to pull to the right, for the gods’ sake, pull to the right or there’d be no room for them to get their wagons out.
Obyzouth turned her wagon with the others, still thinking of those women, and nearly ran into the wall. The fat foreman screeched and Obyzouth swore, yanking the reins hard to the side to steer her oxen. They bellowed in protest and turned, the wagon wheels scraping the wall but finding clearance. That made Obyzouth forget about women, the boss would have her hide if she scratched the paint on those da*ned wheels.
Just inside the warehouse, a dark –haired man stood with his arms crossed, watching. He was dressed in blue trousers and a long blue coat with gold trim. Obyzouth’s first thought was that he was a lord, but the boss has said this place didn’t have lords. Her second instinct was that the man was the law.
As the wagon rolled past him, the blue-coated man looked up but didn’t say anything. Obyzouth kept staring forward. She’d spent far too many nights in lockup, and the boss had warned she’d be fired if it happened again. She instead drove the wagon to the rear of the warehouse, where the first was already stopped. Another door loomed beyond, one for them to drive out of once they unloaded, and the entire ceiling was made of glass, letting in more than enough sunlight to see. It was a nice setup, if a bit unnerving. Usually she’d have to unload his damn cargo outside, no matter what the wind or rain.
What was even nicer was that air wisps were doing the unpacking. Obyzouth couldn’t see them, but carpets and other goods were flying off the wagons, vanishing among huge shelves while Obyzouth’s boss screamed at the foreman over how much was there and in what condition.
Stretching her back, Obyzouth climbed down and walked over to the next wagon. There, Coven was watching the wisps with his mouth hanging open. Obyzouth grinned. “Not too shabby, eh?”
“Yeah,” Coven agreed with his mouth still agape. “Wish we got this treatment everywhere. Damn, this place is different.”
“Yep. Can’t wait to see what the women taste like.”
“I think I’m afraid to know,” Coven admitted.
In all, it took ten minutes to unload everything, which to Obyzouth’s mind made it a record. Even better, it was still too late to start off again before morning. While the boss was too much the skinflint to pay for rooms, he was of the opinion that his men could sleep just as well under their wagons, this meant they’d have the evening to themselves. They just had to make sure they were back before the convoy left.
They’d also been paid since the last stop. Obyzouth had coin in her pocket and a powerful urge to drink. “Want to go find a tavern?” she asked Coven. It was always good to have a buddy along, mostly on the theory that she could convince him to buy a few rounds. Coven shook his head. “Sorry, I’m gonna get a bath and some sleep.”
Coward. He just didn’t like Obyzouth’s reputation. She didn’t really mind it herself, though. She was more interested in a different kind of company tonight any damn ways. “Your loss,” she grunted.
The boss waved them all over. A huge man who’d been a drover for over thirty years, Kin Dinijen was one of the few men Obyzouth respected; Kin had nearly broken her hand for throwing a drunken punch. The boss was fairly open-minded, though, willing to have a drink himself and not caring what Obyzouth did, so long as she wasn’t late and didn’t cost Kin any money.
“There’s a place we can store the wagons and oxen for then we’re out of here.” He scratched his bearded chin. “Foreman here says there’s a hotel of sorts down the road with a bar. You can stay here if you want, but it’s right expensive.” There were groans at that. “Otherwise, the blacksmith lets men sleep in the loft of his barn for a penny.” That sounded better, though Obyzouth didn’t really like picking hay out of her clothes. “Only other thing he said was, Leave the Drow alone, leave the women alone, less they say otherwise, and stay the hell away from the men in blue and gold. That’s it. Settle your animals and be back at dawn.”
The men obeyed, discussing what they’d do while they drove their wagons out of the warehouse, following the boss to the empty lot provided for storage. A large paddock nearby was good for the animals. Obyzouth didn’t join their conversation. She was going to find that bar, and as for a place to stay, women had rooms, didn’t they? She’d just sack out with whoever took her home.
Waving at the others, she headed out and down the street, passing other warehouses and places to buy or repair farming equipment. All of the buildings had the same oddly organic look. More, everything seemed to be laid out according to some master plan… and it didn’t take her long to realize that most of were going unused. It seemed crazy to build a bunch of places before you needed them, but she supposed if you had a whole bunch of wisps to do work, there was no harm done.
It didn’t take her long to find the tavern the boss mentioned. The rooms above overpriced, but the drinks were plenty and cheap. The beer was made by a water dragon, the barman told her proudly, which explained the strange aftertaste. It was still pretty good beer, but unnatural.
The whole place was a bit unnatural. Obyzouth had never seen so many Drow as he had on the walk over. There were three in the bar itself, with the owner’s water dragon washing glasses when she wasn’t mixing hops, malt and water in midair. She looked like some sort of long snake, except snakes weren’t see-through.
Obyzouth didn’t much care for her. More interesting was how there were two barmaids, one of whom was fat and middle aged, but with large lovely bosoms, while the other was much younger and pretty of face, but not much of a body. They both carried drinks and bowls of stew to customers, chattering with men as much as serving them. This meant Obyzouth had to get her first beer from the barman, but she took her time to watch, downing the mug and gesturing another.
“Might want to slow down a bit,” the barman laughed. “Yin puts more oomph in her beer than most folks. It’s stronger than it looks.”
“Just pour,” Obyzouth growled. She drank half the results in a single gulp and gestured toward the younger woman with the stein. “She available?”
The barman blinked. “Cherry? Nah, she doesn’t date customers.”
Why not, with a name like that? Obyzouth smirked and drained her beer, slamming it down in front of the barman, who shrugged and filled it again, but with a warning, “I’d leave her alone. She is quick to yell for help.”
That sounded even more interesting to be honest. After Kin nearly broke her hand, Obyzouth hadn’t got into any fights with his fellow drovers, and fighting was his favorite hobby, next to drinking and whoring. “I’ll take that under advisement,” she told the barman, and lurched off her stool, swaying for a moment. “Sh*t, this stuff is strong.”
Obyzouth ignored him, lurching across the floor toward Cherry. She had her back to Obyzouth, chatting with some stupid customer who’d brought his wife to the bar and was ordering dinner. The barman, realizing what Obyzouth intended, shouted for her to stop, but Obyzouth flung an arm around the maid, her hand latching onto her breast. “Hey, girl,” she slurred. “Let’s go find someplace we can get naked.”
Cherry screamed, trying to pull away, but Obyzouth just laughed, tightening her grip and taking another swallow from her mug. The barman shouting for her to let go, rushing around the side of the bar, but he was a skinny little nothing, and everyone was staring in shock. As if none of them would ever grab a wh^re for a tickle!
“You wanna try something?” she sneered at the barman, her grip tightening on the girl’s breast until she started to cry. “Stop yer b*tchin,” she snapped. “You know you want it.”
The door crashed open. Immediately, all the patrons turned white, scrambling out of their chairs and shoving each other as they fled to the back of the establishment. The barman went with them, while his water dragon gave a bizarre shriek and vanished, leaving her half-made beer to splash on the floor. The Drow who’d been wandering around vanished as well, or stood between their masters and the door.
Surprised, Obyzouth turned, Cherry swinging around with her. She saw who was there and started sobbing, reaching out. The man in the blue and gold from the warehouse was entering the bar, his face devoid of expression that Obyzouth hesitated before she started to laugh. From the look of it, she outweighed the newcomer, and she was not the biggest thing herself, the blue coated fool didn’t even have a weapon.
“You have to be joking,” she laughed wickedly.
A second man came in, then a third, and fourth. In all, seven men in blue and gold entered, none of them speaking as they spread out to fill the bar. They advanced. These weren’t odds Obyzouth liked, but from experience, the worst she would get was a lump on the head and a night in jail. She glared, though, seeing her job leaving in the morning without her. Kin wouldn’t wait for her again.
“What the hell is wrong with you people?” she shouted. “Who gives a sh*t about some slut barmaid?” Somewhere behind her, someone groaned. The men didn’t seem to care.
“The hive is in danger,” one of them said in a soft voice.
“Yes,” several more answered.
“The crimson queen gave us her permission.”
They all hissed it, the sound continuing after they should have run out of breath, and Obyzouth looked around at them, suddenly nervous. “Look,” she said. “I’m letting her go. See? I’m letting her go.”
She released Cherry and immediately she ran to the men, still crying. Half of their number converged around her, holding her and actually cooing. The rest kept advancing.
“Look,” Obyzouth said. “I…”
She didn’t get to finish. A blast of emotion hit her all at once, focused and deliberate and she felt her bladder release as her tankard fall to the ground. Her eyes widened and she screamed in terror. Hatred that wasn’t hers filled her, crippling her courage, leaving her shaking and helpless and her heart threatening to burst in her chest. But this didn’t last long. The men’s focus narrowed and something else came at her, something invisible and very deliberately aimed.
Obyzouth’s right arm blew off at the shoulder. It was the one she’d grabbed the girl with, intending nothing but some harmless fun, though if she felt bad about it in the morning, oh well. She drew breath to scream again, and her left arm burst off as well. She did scream then, her voice so high-pitched she couldn’t recognize it, and then the blue-coated man she’d been warned about took off her head.
As the raven haired head of Obyzouth rolls across the creaking wooden floor boards of the tavern, the still weeping Cherry turns her face towards the severed head. Cherry’s cry turns into a wicked laughter and her eyes change from a dull brown to golden yellow, her soft pink skin becomes a crimson red, and her form does shift into a much larger one. The crimson queen Naamah had finally gotten her revenge on the wicked traitorous Obyzouth, and the feelings that flood her senses were all the sweeter, having done so by manipulating the legendary manipulator.