CHAPTER 11: THE CONQUEST OF MABUS
Groethuis was halfway through explaining exactly how the God-killer worked when Mabus raised his hand to silence him.
“Master?” said Groethuis, looking up from the schematics he had spread across the table like a treasure map.
“That will be all today, Doctor. You may finish tomorrow.”
“As you wish, Master.”
“Can the weapon be fired?”
“It is primed and ready.”
“Good. We may get precious little warning.”
“Master, if I may ask…”
“That will be all, Doctor.”
Sensing that Mabus was close to simply vanishing him out of the throne room with a thought, and without much consideration as to whether he reappeared on the ground or a hundred feet above it, Groethuis gathered up his papers and left without another word.
Mabus silently rested in his throne for a full two minutes.
Finally, he rose to his feet and opened the door to his private bedroom.
He already knew, indeed had known from the second he had raised his hand to silence Groethuis, what he would find there.
“Ave Mabus.” said the figure who was now sitting in his chair with his legs crossed nonchalantly over the table.
“What do you want?” Mabus asked.
“Why do you think I’m here?” the second Mabus asked.
Mabus studied his double. A horrific, skeletal figure draped in sack-like skin and with the barest, mist-thin wreathing of grey hair here and there. And those terrible, milky pale eyeballs, nestling in cavernous sockets like terrible pearls in some ancient shell. Since he had no memory of this meeting, this Mabus was from his future, not his past. But how far in the future? Impossible to say. Even back in the living world, Mabus had been aged as much as a person could be aged. He could not look older if he tried. And here in Hell, no one aged anyway, making it doubly pointless. This Mabus could be from ten seconds in the future, or ten million years.
“To warn me?” Mabus asked.
The second Mabus opened his mouth to let the pale lips slip over his teeth, the closest he could come to a grin.
“To give you a little helping hand.” he said “The hard part’s coming. I think you know to what I refer?”
“But I do win? We win?”
“Well that’s up to you, isn’t it?”
Am I truly this insufferably smug? Mabus asked himself.
“Yes.” said his double.
Walked into that one, I suppose, Mabus thought.
“Yes you did.” said the second Mabus, again with the awful skull grin.
“Get to the point.” Mabus snapped irritably “What do I have to do?”
“Here.” said the double, passing a roll of yellowing paper across the table to him.
“What is this?” Mabus asked him, unfurling it, his eyes adjusting to the script. Ancient Greek. He tried a few words as an appetiser, long disused parts of his brain flickering into life at the taste of them.
“The Conquest of Mabus.” said his twin “It’s a poem, written by one of your soldiers. It commemorates your glorious victory.”
“Why give it to me?”
“Because it’ll tell you everything you need to do. And it’s good for your ego. Enjoy.”
Mabus simply nodded. He didn’t bother thanking himself. What was the point?
His double vanished, and Mabus unfurled the scroll and began to read.
“And no more than a tenth of my legion survived.”
And when Moloch heard this his eyes became red and his brow black,
And so angry was he that the ground shook with his voice,
“What treachery is this?” he asked.
“Which Choir of Heaven abused you thus?”
“Tell me their names, and I shall fly to their gates.”
“And shatter the crystal mountains with my tread.”
“And spear the bringer of light to the viridian fields.”
“That hated thing which they do call the sun.”
“And trail it’s blood from open wounds.”
“‘Til all nine rings are set aflame.”
“And Heaven made a Hell by mine own hand.”
And Malacoda said to him,
“Alas! It was not the Powers that broke my hands!”
“Nor the Dominions that crushed my feet!”
“No Seraph cut the wing from off my back!”
“No Virtue plucked the eye from my head!”
“No Throne broke my horn!”
“Nor Princedom cut but the tenth part from my tail!”
“Fool!” said Moloch “Who but the armies of Yol could treat you thus?”
“It was the Oli-adann” cried Malacoda.
“They lay in wait for us, hidden in a fog of stone.”
“We came upon them, ready for slaughter.”
“But those we thought sheep were wolves.”
“They made war against us.”
“And though we were of the Goli still we bled.”
“They have arms to fight with.”
“They have vessels to carry them through the air.”
“They are led by a king who they fear.”
“Even as Gol is feared by the nine legions.”
“Even now they are camped in the second circle.”
“This army of men, they lie in wait.”
“They seek Dis, Pandemonium, Judecca.”
“They seek the Black Throne of Gol.”
“Thou liest!” said Moloch.
“It is as I have said.” said Malacoda.
“Tell me it is a lie!” said Moloch,
“As true as I shall never more see Heaven.”
Said Malacoda “It is as I have said.”
And Moloch flew into a rage,
And taking a spear, he threw it.
And it pierced Malacoda’s eye and pinned him to the ice,
“Fit reward for honest warning!” screamed Malacoda,
And from that day, the place before Judecca’s gates,
Was known as Chas-Dempai-Gesh.
That is, the Place of Honest Warning.
And Moloch returned to the great hall in ill-humour,
And he was seen by Beelzebub,
That is Beelzebub-Argus-Gol,
Beelzebub of the Pride,
Beelzebub of the Fall,
Beelzebub Who Counselled the Temptation of Man,
Beelzebub the Loyal,
Beelzebub the Wise,
Beelzebub the Right Hand of Gol,
Beelzebub of the Fourth Region of the Ninth Circle.
And he said to Moloch: “Brother.”
“Why art thou thus distempered?”
And Moloch told him what he had seen,
And Beelzebub said “It was well done.”
“For one who lies to a Lord of the Ninth Legion.”
“One such as that should not be suffered to live.”
“Still, we should tell Gol what he said.”
“If only for caution’s sake.”
And they approached the Black Throne of Gol,
And kneeled before him and kept their eyes on his feet,
As was their custom, for only the Prides may look upon Gol,
And then only at his feet may they look.
And Gol gazed at them from the Black Throne and did change his aspect,
And sometimes he was a great black dog with silver teeth,
And sometimes a crow pecking at a mound of eyes,
And sometimes a child without a head,
And sometimes a great black serpent as vast as the world,
And sometimes an angel with blood on his wings,
And sometimes a great black hole,
And sometimes a beckoning finger,
And sometimes a song sung backwards,
And sometimes a fly with yellow eyes,
And sometimes a great beast with three heads,
And in each head a sinner being devoured.
And he said to them “Flies lecture not the eagle.”
“Nor sparks the inferno teach to burn.”
“All that you would say is known to me.”
“His name is Mabus, this king of men.”
“And is it true then, Lord and Brother.”
Said Beelzebub, “That they have arms which pierce.”
“And fire which burns even the Goli, your servants?”
And Gol said “It is true. But though they slay a million.”
“Or a hundred million of the lower legions.”
“Still are they but as dust to me.”
“And to dust shall I return them.”
And then he spread black wings as wide as the sky,
And took to the air as a storm cloud,
And flew he over the nine rings,
And as he flew the devils did call to him,
“Hail to thee, scourge of the morn!”
“Hail to the thee O fallen morningstar!”
“Seated on the Black Throne!”
“Glorious in your sorrow!”
“Hail to he who knew no fear!”
“And broke the chains of Heaven!”
And he answered:
“Faithful fallen, wretched and true.”
“How many of you fell when all days ended?”
“How many fell to the Oli-adann?”
And they lamented and called:
“Hundreds, thousands, numberless are they”
“Who fell at the end of days.”
And he answered: “Great shall be their sorrow.”
“Woe to they who dared make war on Hell.”
“So great their suffering at my hands.”
“That Hell shall strain to hold their pain.”
And the damned called to him;
“Mercy O Lord, Mercy for us!”
“Stars have cooled while we lay burning.”
“Free us, we who have suffered so greatly.”
“We who have burned in vats of fire.”
“We who have been tossed by raging storms.”
“We who have been whipped and worried.”
“Shall there be no mercy for us?”
And Gol called to them,
“You rich men, did you give away your gold?”
“You gluttons, did you give away your food?”
“You envious, did you give your good will?”
“You slothful, did you give your time?”
“You cruel men, did you give your mercy?”
“Why then should I, who am worse than you.”
“Give away my greatest treasures?”
“Why should I part with your souls?”
And they cursed his name and called to him:
“May Mabus split your head in two!”
And thus the Damned proclaimed their loyalty,
To Mabus, not to Gol whom they had followed all their lives,
And who was their Lord.
And in the form of a great Bat,
Gol came to the second ring of Hell,
Where the great storm lashed the lustful,
And seeing a great host of the Mabi camped,
He killed all those upon the plain,
And ate of them.
Mabus stopped reading. Beside the phrase “And ate of them”, handwriting that was unmistakeably his own had been added to the text. It simply said:
“He is eating them as you read this.”
Mabus’ eyes narrowed. Apparently, at some point in the future, he was destined to develop a truly twisted sense of humour.
“Young man, I will ask this only once. You are quite sure?”
Piotr gulped nervously. As it happened, the young Russian was not sure at all. His job, until recently, been involved doing nothing more technically complex than tightening lug nuts in the motor pool. But after Thomas’ massacre of the Blue Scorpions, Piotr, along with seemingly any soldier with the slightest familiarity with computer technology, had been drafted in to replace them.
Piotr had once ordered a necklace online for his girlfriend. Which had never even arrived.
That was the extent of his IT experience.
So when Doctor Groethuis stood in front of him, and sliced him with that clinical stare and asked him to stand by the impossible, ridiculous thing that the system was telling him…
“Well…” Piotr murmured “Barring some kind of technical…”
““No” then. Hm?” Groethuis cut him off “Your answer is “No”. You are not sure.”
“I…I…I…” Piotr was freewheeling now, the tongue was off the leash, the brain chasing after it like a fat, wheezing man lurching after a hyperactive whippet.
All around him, he knew the other Blues, all of them as raw and inexperienced as he was, were peeping nervously out of their cubicles. One thought between them; better him than me.
“Which begs the question.” Groethuis hissed “Seeing as you are not sure, as to why you are troubling me with this?”
“I’m waiting” said Groethuis.
“What is it?”
Piotr screamed and leaped out of his seat as a seven foot tall skin-draped skeleton sprang into existence over his shoulder.
Mabus did not seem to notice, and leaned over his chair, studying the screen.
The other Blues watched in silence. Even after having emerged from the chamber, Mabus was still a creature of legend. Mabus had rarely deigned to give a personal audience to the vast majority of his soldiers. Most, when they arrived in Gomorrah, were taken in hand by older recruits and had the situation explained to them (or, occasionally, were killed and robbed in they were wearing anything particularly nice.) Every one of the Blue Scorpions had found themselves wondering at some time or other if Mabus was even real. And yet here he was, in the ragged flesh.
“You’ve lost contact with Camp D?” Mabus said, after a few moments.
It took Piotr a few agonised seconds to realise he was being spoken to.
“Yes. Sir. Master.”
“Were they engaged in any hostile action?”
“Their last routine check in was All Normal.”
“Did they attempt to make contact before they vanished?”
“There were a few transmissions, but they were garbled. Nothing we could make sense of.”
“And now they’re gone?”
“No Master.” Groethuis corrected him “It’s a technical error. Unavoidable, seeing as this entire floor is being run by rank amateurs. We’ve simple lost contact with Camp D. They are still out there.”
“Oh?” said Mabus, and there was a mocking tone in his voice which Groethuis found unsettling. Mabus was usually very respectful of his opinion, even if he did not agree with it.
“Yes sir. Tell him.” said Groethuis.
Mabus’ eyes swung to Piotr, who felt the weight of his gaze in tons.
“Well sir, right before they went silent, the system started reading something coming towards them.”
“Why so sure?”
“Don’t be shy, boy. Tell me. Why could it not be a storm?”
“It was too big to be a storm. Sir.” Piotr whispered.
“I see.” said Mabus “How big? Assuming it wasn’t some kind of technical fault?”
“If the readings were accurate, it was roughly the size of…” Piotr searched for a comparison “Brazil.”
“Master.” said Groethuis quietly “Do wish me to organize a mission to Camp D?”
“I can think of no greater waste of time.” said Mabus.
“Then perhaps, if I may be so bold” Groethuis cleared his throat “If you were to go back in time and warn…”
“No.” said Mabus, and he clenched the roll of parchment in his hand.
“We are on the path of victory now. We win this. We will win this. Any change I make to the timeline now could endanger that. No. Camp D is expendable. Ready the God-killer. He’s coming.”
“Of course sir.”
Mabus made the Blue Room vanish and he was back in his study, surrounded by his books and trinkets from a thousand eras. He held up the parchment to Hell’s dim red light as it slunk in through the balcony window.
It was a terrible thing to have, he mused. Before he had sauntered into the future, with no surety of his success other than his own crowing ego. Now he had this, a sure road to victory in his hands. No, not a road. A thread, a razor thin, golden tightrope.
If he veered even slightly from the history the poem detailed, that history might never come to be.
Mabus growled. He had always known he had a destiny.
He had just never expected to have one forced on him.