Henchmen; Those Who “Hench”
April 25, 2012 § 4 Comments
Etymology is a wonderful thing. A henchman, historically speaking, was most likely used to refer to someone who worked with a horse or as a personal attendant to a king or noble, an important and meaningful position. It came to mean an attendant to a Scottish Highland Chief, and naturally from there, because who trusts the Scots, to mean “unscrupulous follower or thug.”
Thanks, Scotland, for ruining more of our language. Again.
I realized some things that are preventing me from writing on this blog more regularly: namely The Dresden Files RPG and Pathfinder. I recently started a game in both systems and have only myself to blame when I look back at the week and say that I have no time.
I have recalled a third thing: Netflix. Did you know that, not only does it have all of Buffy and Stargate: SG1, it also has all of Jackie Chan Animated Adventures? Not to mention the new episode of The Legend of Korra and Episode 4 of Game of Thrones? Which, by the way, is finally getting good?
I wasn’t wowed by the first two episodes, especially since they’ve had to start really changing things around as compared to the books. That said, episode 3 and 4 are, not only good, but they are also showing some intelligent changes that I can appreciate. Bronn as commander of the city watch? Weird and confusing. Expanding Theon’s story so he actually looks like a human being torn between two loyalties? Genius.
Oh yes, I’m supposed to be writing or something. Have some more of the Lovers. Just a reminder to anyone who’d be interested: Writer’s Digest is having a contest that I’m going to be entering. You should also take a look (or not, I’m not opposed to having less competition).
At exactly the same Time as Patrick learned how to fly, because Time works differently when he’s not allowed in the front door (and “Hey,” it figured, “why not?”), Amira watched the denarius fly through the air. The guards who had laid their hands on her pulled her back, back towards to kitchen and the chopping block.
Time, also a little miffed because he wasn’t invited to the afterlife, decided the play with everyone for a little while. It slowed down, down to a crawl, but left the minds of those affected untouched. The world went by like a slow-moving dance which left plenty of time for everyone to see what was happening, think about it, and wonder what the heck was happening when it did.
The silver coin tumbled as it flew. A hand clamped on Amira’s chin and pulled her head back. The coin tumbled again and she bared her teeth. It tumbled a third time and she tasted demon blood as she bit the tiger’s hand down to the bone. He roared, a drawn-out rumble, and pulled the hand back while drops of blood pooled and flew through the air like rain. The taste of blood, sugar, and tequila assaulted her mouth and almost made Amira gag.
More hands reached her and she squirmed like a fish. The demon guards easily grabbed on to her dress but her flailing tore the smooth fabric out of their hands as though it was coated in oil. The guards were angry now, and their faces slowly slid back into masks of rage. A hippo demon took almost a whole minute to bare his teeth at her and dank, foetid breath slowly infiltrated her nostrils. Leviathan laughed on his chair and his rolls of fat jiggled like a lifeguard’s breasts in a cheesy beach movie.
Amira struggled like a fish in molasses but there were too many demons. They descended on her, crushing her and surrounding her, as arms that felt like iron grabbed hold. She tried to scream, but a hairy gorilla hand clamped over her mouth and slipped a finger in-between her teeth.
Marcus stood with his hand outstretched, waiting for the coin to fall.
Time chuckled to itself as Amira was dragged, screaming through a gorilla’s finger, through the swinging doors and back into the kitchen. It would have been perfectly peaceful, except that the man with the cleaver (who may or may not have been wearing a swastika arm-band. No-one was sure and it could have been another of Time’s jokes) was already sizing her up for where to cut. He was caught in the act of drawing the sharpener across the slick blade, the quick motions made menacing in their exaggerated slowness. Amira almost wet herself then and there.
The coin tumbled a final time and into Marcus’ hand. The doors were swinging shut with the finality of a coffin lid as he turned it over and smirked. In a voice that was not at all slowed down, he said,
“It seems I have a new employer. What would you like me to do, Mistress?”
Still slowed, the remaining guards (a lion, armadillo, and gorilla demon), turned towards Marcus and placed themselves between him and Leviathan. He looked not in the least dangerous as he slouched against the wall, but his eyes roved over the demons like a boyfriend alone in a night club. He took in every detail in the time it took them to register his presence.
Marcus went low and faster than the demons could hope to react, planted a fist in the groin of the lion. It bellowed and went to clutch its genitalia (Amira idly wondered if they looked human or lion), but before it got half-way Marcus leapt high and
barrelled into the armadillo. The two went down, Marcus twice as fast as the demon and who hit the ground rolling, and the armadillo went limp as his neck was deftly twisted from behind in mid-air. The gorilla was just finishing his roundhouse swing as Marcus casually
stepped under the blow and smirked.
“I’ve waited a long time to do this, Ba’al’ezal.” He said before he drove two fingers deep into the demon’s eye. His fingers went in past the knuckles and back out in a second, and in a blur he swooped in the kitchen before the gorilla hit the ground.
Marcus stood in the kitchen, idly toying with a carving knife he liberated from the wall as Time returned to normal. He smiled at the guards still holding onto Amira and raised an eyebrow, daring them to keep dragging her away. They looked at Marcus, looked at the demons on the ground, and then looked to the knife in his hand. As one, they let go of Amira and stepped away, their hands in the air.
The kitchen quieted around them as the cooks and servers stepped away. Marcus kept a cold smile on his face while Amira regained her composure.
“Your next task, madam?”
She smiled back at him but her knees were still a little weak. Amira nodded graciously, at least as graciously as she could muster, and smoothed her dress.
“You will have to escort me from the casino, Marcus.”
“Of course. But besting Leviathan’s cronies is one thing. Getting past Leviathan will be quite another. I hope your plan to get out of here will work.”
Amira brushed her hair out of her eyes. “Me too. Shall we?” She gestured towards the swinging doors.
Marcus nodded and swept through the doors, placing himself between her and Leviathan. The demon was raging and flailing at his chair, his stubby arms waved like windmills and his fat jiggled like white caps at shore.
“You bastard! You lying, cheating whore! I’ll to fry your liver and garnish it with her lying tongue!”
“Calm Leviathan,” Marcus attempted to placate the beast, “this is only business. Your quarrel is with her, now.”
The monster pointed to the gorilla demon and the puddle of fluid that leaked from its ruined eye socket. “Oh no, Brutus. In this case it is most definitely an eye for an eye,” He rose out of his chair as more and more of his body came out of the hole in the ground. Thick coils of muscle and bone pulsed as they fought their way out into the light.
Marcus shrugged and whispered. “This is your show now, Amira.”
Amira whistled and the samodiva flew out of hiding. It pulled a small plate out of its bag and threw it on the ground in front of Leviathan. It was rather unremarkable, the pale yellow colour that eerily suggests it used to be white many years ago but only God knows the truth of that and ringed with paintings of small white flowers. What was remarkable, however, was how a pair of cabbage rolls popped into being and huddled together on the plate, steaming.
Leviathan’s response was to automatically grab the rolls and stuff them into his mouth. It was unconscious and so quick that he probably didn’t even know he did it. His mouth stretched open and shifted, revealing row after row of teeth packed into his mouth so tightly they defied biology. He belched out a roar that shook the glass of the aquariums and advanced on Amira and Marcus.
“Was that the egg course? I should think we don’t need to feed him any more than we will be.”
“Just watch, Marcus.” Amira said. “They assured me this would work.”
“I must point out that no-one assured me this would work.” Marcus complained. He looked, however, completely in control even as Leviathan backed them into a corner. Amira noticed the strong lines of his body and the sense of control that radiated off of him, despite her reasonable fear of being eaten alive by a gigantically fat man-snake.
Leviathan opened his mouth wider and the first row of teeth was only a foot away from Amira’s face when he slowed down. His piggy eyes rolled in his head and he started shaking. Small spasms rocked through his body like electric currents and his coiled body knocked over the chairs in the room.
Amira looked to the desk and smiled in relief. Like clockwork, two new cabbage rolls gently steamed on the once-empty plate. The smell wafted over to her and she relaxed as Leviathan turned to take the bait. He devoured the two, but before he could turn back to face them, four appeared on the plate. He lifted these into his mouth, but before his hand reached all the way eight more appeared on the plate. His eternal hunger was no match for endless cabbage rolls and he strove to shove the endless food into his mouth. A pile started growing as they appeared faster than he could eat them, and in frustration he lifted the plate over his mouth and poured them in, his teeth gnashing together like a compactor.
Marcus didn’t hesitate. Action is, as is often noted, a manly quality that several women (including one Amira Mehenni) are known to appreciate. He grabbed Amira by the hand the second Leviathan turned his head away and bolted for the door. He knocked it open with a kick and pulled her into the painting-lined hallway. The two guards who stood outside were bowled over by the swinging door and Marcus simply pulled Amira past them at a run.
“How in Hell did that work?” He asked as they ran. “Even Leviathan isn’t greedy enough to let food get in the way of revenge.”
“Ask Baba Yaga!” Amira shouted back, even as she herself wasn’t certain how it worked. She only remembered Baba Yaga winking when she asked what the cabbage rolls did.
“No questions now,” she said, “sometimes, it’s best not to know.”
Spider laughed. “They’re made out of wishes and fishes, and dragons and diamonds. No demon could say no to them, no matter how much they tried.”
She hadn’t understood what he meant, but was just satisfied that she was currently escaping instead of being eaten alive by Leviathan. Besides, she now had much more to think about.
With a crash they burst into the casino and into chaos. Cabbage rolls were popping into being everywhere, gamblers were either running this way and that or were fist-fighting over piles of glowing memories, and suited security demons were bashing every head they could reach. Marcus pulled her along, motioning for her to run faster.
“What’s happening? Why are these cabbage rolls here?” Asked Amira.
“You don’t realize what’s happening here? This whole casino is inside Leviathan’s stomach.” Marcus said as he calmly ducked a punch from a gambler. “We’re safe for now while he’s distracted, but unless we move quickly he might just shut up shop.”
“With all of this inside?”
“Gladly. He’d eat himself, if given half the chance. Leviathan might be one of the most powerful demons in Hell, but he is absolutely ruled by his desires. The hunger inside him is so great that I am certain it is more powerful than he is. If it were to get any worse, his consciousness would be only a vehicle for his hunger. In a way, I pity him. There are few fates worse than that.”
“Even now?” Amira asked as she tripped over a stack of cabbage rolls.
“Well, perhaps not now. Look out!”
The floor in front of Marcus abruptly bent up at a ninety-degree angle and shot straight into the sky. The masses of people on it weren’t bothered by the change in gravity and happily carried on fighting. Missing only a beat, Marcus leapt forward and ran up the wall. Amira followed despite her brain registering several complaints with the management. All around them the casino shifted as Leviathan grew more and more agitated, each shift funnelling masses of cabbage rolls, not to mention gamblers and security demons, deep into his gullet. Amira guessed that the screams meant she had no desire to try and escape that way.
There was a sharp bang and a bullet blasted into the floor by her foot. Amira stumbled but Marcus helped right her.
“Come on, madam, we’ve got to keep moving! Don’t mind the plebians.” Marcus swatted a bullet of the air with the blade of his hand and urged her to her feet.
“Easy for you to say! I’m not quite able to do what you’re doing, Mr. “I’ve been in Hell so long I can make it do what I want.” Amira was too busy running to realize that her skirts, despite billowing around her legs like foam on the water, weren’t in any way impeding her running. Shots rang out around her, but she ran heedlessly forward, ploughing her way through the crowd. She tried hard not to notice that the ground she had been running across a moment ago was now the wall and she was running hard up towards the ceiling.
“Where are we going?” She screamed at Marcus’ back.
He paused to dispatch an aggressive guard before answering. “We’ve got to go up! It’s too dangerous to go deeper! The entrance to the casino is his mouth! We’ve got to get out of here before he closes it!”
“Marcus,” a chill went down Amira’s back, “what exactly do you mean by saying the casino is inside his stomach?”
A roaring rush of sound tore through the casino like a whirlwind. Loose chips and cabbage rolls flew through the air, as well as a few unlucky patrons. Marcus looked back at her with a grim look on his face and took her by the hand.
“I’d explain, but in the time it would take to do so we’d be eaten. Place your trust in me, madam, and when it’s safe I will explain everything.”
Amira nodded and then ducked as a bullet whizzed by her ear. Marcus’ head moved like a snake to avoid it, and the sound his neck made as it bent almost made Amira retch. Marcus, however, didn’t seem the least bit bothered. “Come on!” He yelled.
More and more security guards, whether out of loyalty, desperation, or sheer bloody-mindedness, kept charging towards the two of them. Most of them obviously carried guns but weren’t using them. Amira wondered why not and then stumbled as the wall rose up again. She looked down and noticed that her dress was riddled with bullets where the dress caught them, and bullet holes where it did not. Mystified as to how she got shot and still didn’t feel anything Amira went to stick her finger in a hole and was only stopped by Marcus’ iron grip on her hand.
“Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don’t be unbelieving, but believing!”
“What was that? Why doesn’t it hurt?” Amira asked.
“This is Hell. Until you believe it, it isn’t so. Which is why they prefer swords. Much easier to believe it when you’ve been hit with one. Now duck, please.”
Amira didn’t question it. She collapsed in a heap a second before a sword, a thin, practical rapier, thrust from behind her and into Marcus’ side. She shrieked but Marcus didn’t seem that bothered. He stepped forward and ran the sword another few inches into his side but grabbed the wielder and stove the demon’s face in with a punch. A tiny flicker of anger passed through his eyes, darkening the light brown to a deep chestnut, but it was quickly replaced with a smile. He drew the sword out of his side, now dripping with his blood, and helped Amira stand up again.
“Now we are armed.” It was matter-of-fact. He wasn’t the least bit concerned about the blood he was losing.
“I…see. Well, lead on, Marcus, if you’re able.”
They ran and Amira was lost in the chaos. Fleeing gamblers collided into each other like billiard balls and security guards popped-up like weeds. Marcus cut and stabbed and slashed but they kept coming, as relentless as white blood cells fighting an infection. Which, for all Amira figured, they might well have been.
Marcus led them around a corner and into the lobby. Amira gaped at the once opulent room. It was almost unrecognizable as the fancy establishment Amira had walked into. The furniture was thrown about and smashed into as many pieces as possible. Bodies tumbled down towards Leviathan’s gullet while wounded gamblers desperately tried to hold on. Blood of dozens of colours stained the thick rug and unfamiliar organs pulsated despite being obviously separated from their owner’s bodies.
A single guard, an enormous pachyderm demon, stood between Marcus, Amira, and the door to freedom. It held a gigantic stone club that dripped with blood in its granite-coloured hands and trumpeted menacingly at their approach. It may have been the only thing between Amira and freedom, but it looked like more than enough.
Marcus laughed and stepped forward. “Really? Is this the best that he’s got left? Come, Asmishdah, you’ve little hope of stopping me.” He cut the air with his sword to punctuate his words.
“Betrayer, stand aside. I know you and see you for who you are. You cannot escape your nature. Leave the girl for Leviathan to devour. It is better this way.” Asmishdah’s voice was as deep as a mine shaft. His ears waved as he spoke. A drop of blood dripped from the club and Amira realized that it was a statue of a man. A full-sized, solid stone statue of a screaming man. Amira now understood how several of the organs had come to be liberated from their owners.
Marcus’ voice went thick with anger. “Better? That is better than freedom from this hellish place? Leviathan is a worm that doesn’t know well enough to stay stuck in the dirt! He doesn’t deserve the taste of the dust on her shoes!”
“Better the king of the dirt than a twice-damned traitor.”
Asmishdah’s words stopped Marcus in his tracks. He went taut, like a cord wound tightly just before it snaps. Asmishdah levelled its club on its shoulder.
“Enough talk, Betrayer. It is time.”
The demon trumpeted so loudly Amira clutched at her ears. The noise rolled over her like thunder, but it was only the beginning. Asmishdah swung its club at Marcus and split the ground with a deafening crash. Marcus, however, was well away from where Asmisdah’s club cracked the earth.
The Roman darted around behind the demon, moving faster than Amira could easily follow. His sword flashed like a silver arrow and plunged deep into the elephant’s knee. With a flash, Marcus pulled it out and darted away again.
Asmishdah ignored the strike to its knee. It strode steadily towards Amira, trumpeting wildly and preparing to swing again. Amira looked up in horror as the elephant bore down on her, her knees locked into place and her mind blank. The hallway behind her was filling with corpses and security demons, and Asmishdah could easily reach any corner that she could hide in. Marcus, realizing what the demon’s plan was, furiously stabbed the beast as many times as he could. The sword pierced Asmishdah dozens of times but the demon stubbornly came on.
Oh crap, she thought, I’m going to die again.
The club swung through the air with all the weight of belief behind it. It didn’t matter that it was “made” (Physics goes into a tailspin when one tries to make something out of something else in the Metaphysical World and just agrees to let its reasonable objections slide) out of stone. It just as well could have been made out of marshmallows and gumdrops; the effect would have been the same. Amira was about to be made into mush.
But, and this is important, she did not want to be made into mush. She did not want this so much that she believed it impossible to be made into mush. Unlike the day before her wedding when she could think ahead and see herself become a wife, she could not think ahead and imagine herself as a pile of mush. The best she could do was see herself as a Loony Toons-esque Amira pancake which would waddle off-screen and pop up as Amira again in time for the next scene. Hell, despite having everything under the sun and then some, does not (unfortunately) split itself into scenes.
However, Amira, like most mortal minds, could not possibly imagine her own death. She could imagine grievous wounds being done to her, wounds which would prove fatal, without problem, but the actual death, where life ends and mortals slip into the black, proved impossible. Now normally for mortals, this is not a problem when it comes time to die. A person might believe that they are immortal, but the 7 million kilogram train that hits them at 75 km/h will ask Physics what it thinks about those apples.
The short answer is that Physics loves applesauce.
In this case, when the club just brushed Amira’s forehead, Belief cut in on Physics at this tango. Normally, despite their objections to being made into person-putty, most souls would agree that when a person is struck with a giant stone club those objections are overruled. Amira, however, was not most souls and her objections were sustained. The club was not allowed to hurt her, but both her and the demon’s minds needed to understand what would happen next. For Amira, the reality was that the club would stop without doing any damage to her, and for Asmishdah it was the exact opposite. This was a problem of conflicting beliefs, and so Physics was allowed a brief intervention into the metaphysical.
Physics, although he could only watch from the sidelines, yelled out what happens when there is an incomplete transfer of force between two bodies. Though something was lost in the translation, the meaning came across as clear as the sky in summer: kaboom.
Amira was blown straight backwards and into a pile of security demons. They collapsed into a heap and although the demons bore the worst of the impact, Amira could not shake the belief that she would hurt after such an explosion. She stumbled to her feet but her back was on fire with pain and her mind had shattered into a thousand pieces. She could only focus on one at a time to the exclusion of all others, and the one she had in mind was: get out of there.
Asmishdah did not fare nearly as well as Amira. His club splintered into shards of stone as long as a human arm which then flew backwards into him. The demon wavered and fell backwards, shaking the casino to its foundation as it did so. It tried to trumpet but a long spike had severed its nose. Instead, Asmishdah could only release a mournful bubbling noise that bubbled the blood pouring out of the wound. The demon’s arms were twisted and broken, and it breathed fitfully as the infernal life that powered it bled out.
Marcus, who had been thrown from Asmishdah’s back by the explosion, staggered over to the demon. He raised his sword to Asmishdah’s eye.
“I told you I was better.”
Asmishdah opened its mouth to speak, but instead of words thick black blood poured out. Marcus scowled and stabbed the demon through the eye, stilling Asmishdah’s last quivering. He strolled over to Amira and took her by the waist.
“Easy, Madam. We mustn’t push, but we are still in quite the rush. Can you walk?”
“Bwah?” Was all that Amira could say. She heard nothing over the ringing in her ears.
“Damnation. Come with me, then. Hurry, hurry hurry.” Marcus draped her arm over his shoulder and hustled her along as quickly as he could. Pain shot through her with every step and she screamed when he touched her on the back. It was as though his touch was a thousand fiery ants that squirmed through her skin all at once.
Despite her pain and Marcus’ injury, they reached the door to the casino. A great wooden thing, it stood closed but unlocked. Marcus leaned her against the door and said, “Just stay on your feet. I won’t be but a second.”
Marcus had time to turn and grab the handle to the door before a bullet blasted through his back and splattered dark blood on the wood. He coughed, his eyes wide with surprise, and fell against the door. The bullet had clearly pierced a lung and blood gushed from his mouth in a torrent. Amira had only heard a slight pop as the bullet burrowed into the wood, but saw Marcus stumble in perfect slow-motion.
Amira, in this case, was just as much to blame for Marcus’ wound as was the shooter. While Marcus could have shrugged off a bullet based on his belief in his own invulnerability, especially one from behind, Amira had the bad luck to be looking straight at him when it happened. Her own power, amplified by the fact that her mind was working on auto-pilot, could not help but assume such a shot would be fatal. Now, by sheer accident and Amira’s own understanding of narrative imperative, it would be.
She grabbed for Marcus, heedless of the demons advancing on them at a run. His eyes were clouding over and he had begun to convulse in quick jerks, like a cockroach with brain damage. Amira held him in her arms, completely at a loss for what to do. The demons came closer.
Marcus summoned enough will to grab her by the arm and shout (in a bubbly whine as blood flew out of his mouth in droplets), “Open the door!”
His last words, or what very well could be “last”, pierced through Amira’s funk and she had the strength to grab the door handle. It was gold and moulded, obviously, into the shape of a fish. It even felt wet in her hands. She did not notice the blood that covered them like gloves.
At her touch, the fish opened its eye and asked her, “Where to?”
“Away!” Was all that Amira could manage through the pain that wracked her body.
“You got it, boss.”
The door opened and red light flooded in. She grabbed a hold of Marcus and fell forward, dragging the two of them past the threshold. They disappeared. The security demons, who had been a second too slow, stopped abruptly lest they be pushed into that red light. None of them wanted to go out that way.
The door slammed shut amid Leviathan’s roars.
– John has left the building