"HAIL TO GRAZ'ZT, King of the Abyss!" chorused a throng of demons in voices that chirruped, bellowed, grated, squawked, and growled.
"King Graz'zt, Conqueror of Prince Ariax!" a huge, multi-armed, snake-bodied demoness called in clarion voice. Lamia, succubi, and the menagerie of others there echoed the cry, raising a noise that would have been incomprehensible and horrifying to human or demi-human ears.
A huge, ebony figure stood receiving the adulation. His smile was charming, despite the fangs it revealed. This figure, his body seemingly carved from polished obsidian, raised a six-fingered hand. In but a moment the horde of demons fell silent, and Graz'zt spoke.
"King you proclaim me – and King I am! My recent victory over Ariax now extends our domain over fully eight planes. We rule the heart of the Abyss – and soon the rest will bow!" Pausing for a moment to allow the disparate demons to issue their noises of accolade, the newly made monarch stood with pride and delight written on his dark face as the adulation washed over him. Then his demeanor changed ever so slightly. "Enough!" he thundered, and the throng became still. The self-proclaimed king gestured toward a grotesque, hyena-headed figure on his right and spoke again.
"Honor belongs to Our Good Right Hand, Prince Yeenoghu. Cheer him as Our new Viceroy!" Graz'zt roared, motioning for the demon to stand, and again the discordant chorus sounded. He waited for the initial outburst to peak and begin subsiding, then cut off the noise and ordered Yeenoghu to sit again by lowering his hand.
"Give glory to Our Marshal, Lord Kostchtchie!" bellowed Graz'zt, raising his left hand, and a massive demon stood on the king's left as this call for recognition was made. His jaundiced skin hairless except for jutting bristles above deep-set eyes, the bandy-legged Kostchtchie leered and raised his huge iron hammer over his head.
Despite Graz'zt's command, only a faint hooting and gibbering of acclaim sounded. The squat demon was so loathsome that even the throng of lessers found it hard to voice applause. Kostchtchie seemed delighted at this, even though his round of applause, such as it was, did not last as long as Yeenoghu's had. By the time Graz'zt lowered his left hand and Kostchtchie sat again, the noise had all but died out. Graz'zt ended the silence with his next pronouncement.
"Prince Yeenoghu and Lord Marshal Kostchtchie will now accompany Me… elsewhere," the king said. At that, there was a babble of sound; the audience was clearly surprised. According to what he himself had announced years ago, Graz'zt was being forced by an other-worldly power to remain here in Mezzafgraduun, three hundred thirty-third layer of the Abyss, for years and even decades longer. The new king allowed the demons and assembly of creatures who served him and his associates to continue their murmuring and muttering for a short time, then spoke again.
"Silence!" he bellowed, and the crowd obeyed. "Do you doubt Me?" Graz'zt asked, and a stupid toad-demon nearby gave a short croak in response. It was a harmless gesture, for the thing simply intended to indicate its acceptance of its monarch's claim, no matter if it was true or not. But Graz'zt, incensed by what he saw as an affirmative answer to his question, raised his hand toward the offender, and a beam of black radiance shot from his palm. The demon shrieked as the bolt struck it, and its face contorted in agony. The thing's body arched, its muscles contracting so as to hurl it upward. The demon was disintegrating into a puddle of gore even before what remained of its body touched the ground again.
"Who doubts now?" said Graz'zt, and the members of the assemblage not only remained silent but fell prone in homage to their king. Graz'zt allowed a thin smile to play across his face for a moment before continuing.
"Vuron, Our Lord Steward, will rule in Our brief absence. Obey him, or face My wrath upon Our return!" At that, Graz'zt turned and departed the amphitheater, a vast, seemingly natural bowl of nacreous material, with his attendant nobles and train in tow. After the royal procession came a stream of the demonlings that were Graz'zt's subjects. Fluttering and hopping, slithering and flying, lumbering and rolling, the motley subjects raised a hideous din in Graz'zt's wake. Across and over ground resembling opals they trod and soared and crept, leaving the pearly-surfaced theater of audience to swarm across the park that surrounded that place.
Their king paid no heed to their noise or their trampling of the delicate ferns, nodding blossoms, and flowering shrubs that covered the landscape of the park. If all of Mezzafgraduun were as disconcertingly beautiful as the Royal Demesne, then this tier of the Abyss would be indeed a paradise. Translucent trunks of a luminous dove-gray hue supported luxuriant leaves of shining black, gently waving and soughing in the little breezes that played through the tops of these weird trees. Beneath the palms and cedars grew thick, soot-colored grasses and riotous profusions of tropical vegetation in shades of gray and ebony. Rainbow-hued insects and birds filled the exotic jungle. Monkeylike creatures leaped around in the upper foliage, making streaks and flashes of lemon yellow and electric blue. Brightly colored deer and other smaller creatures bounded and scampered amid the black vegetation, their coats shining as if they were covered with jewels.
A vulture-demon fell upon a nest of peacocklike birds, gleefully rending and tearing adults and chicks. A baboon-demon playfully chased and beheaded several monkeys, using claws and teeth to accomplish its sport. Bloody destruction spread in a swath across the paradisiacal gardens of King Graz'zt, and the monarch smiled benevolently as he viewed the sight. "When One's subjects are frolicking in play," the handsome ruler noted to those around him, "then no other mischief is brewing."
With a slight turn of his head, Graz'zt got the attention of the tall, sticklike demon who walked several respectful paces behind him. "Lord Vuron," he said, "be sure to restock Our parks – and add some larger, noisier creatures for more sport, too – while We are gone. In fact, you may declare a Chase in Our name."
The leathery-skinned Vuron bowed in Graz'zt's direction before he responded. "You are masterful in your entertainments, mighty king," said the steward. "Your generosity and thoughtfulness will be praised by all."
"Of course," Graz'zt said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Kostchtchie, a demon accustomed to frozen wastes and frigid winds, was sweating profusely in the tropical setting of the king's domain, and his stench was clearly repugnant to many of the creatures in his vicinity, even as repulsive as they themselves were. But Graz'zt, delighted with his surroundings and his situation, showed neither any sign of being put off by Kostchtchie's odor nor any concern for his new marshal's discomfort. Surrounded by beautiful succubi and lamias, Graz'zt entered the many-porticoed, gold-bedecked sprawl of his palace. Prior to his departure, the king would be the host and guest of honor at a royal banquet to celebrate his recent triumph. The victory heralded far greater accomplishments to come, and Graz'zt reveled in his thoughts as he considered what the future would bring.
"The Ambassadors of the kings of the Tiger and Wolf tribes are awaiting your pleasure, Lord of Evil." The priest spoke these words haltingly, humility dripping from every phrase, as he addressed the withered old man who sat facing him.
"Emperor of Evil!" thundered the old man, his chest heaving with the effort.
High Priest Modu-Koduz, Chamberlain of his god Iuz, threw himself prone and begged for mercy, writhing in fear. After the priest had engaged in a sufficient amount of groveling, Iuz excused the error.
"You are useless and stupid, Modu-Koduz, but I must make do with the poor tools given to Me. Now, go – fetch these filthy nomads to stand and pay homage to Me. Such continual demands are wearisome, but We will bear up staunchly under them."
As the trembling chamberlain rushed to do Iuz's bidding, the form seated on the massive heap of bones and skulls that formed his throne seemed to flow and change. One minute he was a wrinkled, toothless old man; the next, he was a massive, demoniac monster – a cambion, as those of his ilk were called – with pale reddish skin and pointed fangs lining his jaws. This form is more suitable for fools such as these barbaric horsemen," Iuz muttered to himself. The subjects of his in attendance were too far from his chair of state to hear the remark, and it was not intended for their ears – but they would have certainly voiced their agreement with his statement if they had overheard.
In the past month Iuz had received homage from all the petty rulers of the Bandit Kingdoms, tribute from the Hold of Stonefist, the submission of all the chiefs who remained in the lands that once belonged to the Horned Society, and the respects of a seemingly endless stream of humanoid leaders who had come to swear fealty to Iuz as their liege lord and deity. Now, with the deputation of the wild nomad horsemen of the Tiger and Wolf tribes to the north, came the greatest triumph of all. These human savages would serve to weld Iuz's whole scheme into hard reality. The cambion chuckled happily just as the chamberlain's voice rang out from beyond the entrance to the royal chamber.
"Emperor Iuz, Lord of Pain, and soon Ruler of all Oerth!" proclaimed Modu-Koduz. The echoes of his shout still remained as the fur-draped nomad warriors entered Iuz's chamber to pay their homage. Iuz accepted the ambassadors' words of praise and gifts, bestowed presents upon them in return, and delivered his usual message, in the form of a lecture demanding their unswerving loyalty – with the admonition that the riches and favors he had granted could be taken away just as easily, and that would not be the end of the punishment visited upon anyone whose devotion was found lacking.
The ambassadors left then, and soon the vast hall was deserted except for the lowly, vaguely humanoid demons that stood permanent guard therein. Emperor Iuz had gone off to hold council with those who now considered themselves his peers, but who he vowed would soon enough be his subjects – just as surely as all the nations of Oerth would eventually bow to him.
Shape without form, illumination without light, events occurring in timelessness. Such was the nature of the null-space brought into being by Iggwilv, or so it was perceived by those with her. Perhaps the greatest of witches, as she was known by some, actually did create this no-place, or perhaps she merely enabled herself and the others to gain access to it. The truth of this was unimportant; what did matter was that Iggwilv had provided the means by which she and the other practitioners of evil could meet.
The witch was incredibly ancient, older even than old Iuz – in fact, Iggwilv was the mother of the cambion who had designs on all of Oerth. Iggwilv's infamy reached beyond Oerth to other worlds that paralleled it and occasionally touched it for a time. Ychbilch she was called on one of these worlds, Louhi on another. No matter by what name or title she was known, she was who she was – mistress of dweomercraefting, mother of Iuz, worker of malign plots against those of Good… and sometimes even those of Evil. She sat at ease and in comfort now, displaying the voluptuous beauty of one of the forms she was capable of taking. Perhaps this was Iggwilv's true appearance; be that as it may, even so gorgeous a face as the one she wore now could not mask the evil that dwelled within her.
With her – and with is the only method of describing location in such a nullity as the place she was, for no directions existed, no places, no discernible order – were others. Iuz was here, proud and tall in his demoniac form, wearing finery and bearing his massive sword. Also here was a pulsating mound of fungi, upon and around which hopped and crawled a large toad of exceptional ugliness. The mound was none other than Zuggtmoy, Demoness Queen of Fungi – Iuz's lady, his ally… and his ruler? The cambion would have sneered at this last suggestion; Iggwilv would have laughed at it. Zuggtmoy would have made no comment whatsoever, for she too was what she was.
In the same non-place as these three beings came three others, absent one instant and present the next: jet-black Graz'zt, hyena-headed Yeenoghu, and disgusting Kostchtchie. Just as those who were separate from these three carried weapons and who knew what else in their arsenals, each mighty demon on the other side bore implements as well – Graz'zt his undulating-bladed sword, Yeenoghu his renowned flail, Kostchtchie his favored hammer. The gathering was a tense one at best, and a hostile one at worst, as these tokens of death so visibly demonstrated. Mutual trust among such beings as these was inconceivable, and all of them knew it.
After a series of curt introductions and acknowledgments, Graz'zt addressed Iuz directly and got right to the heart of what he assumed the conclave concerned. The object is Mine by right, and you will deliver it forthwith!" said the self-proclaimed king in a thundering tone.
"I shall do nothing of the kind," Iuz shot back disdainfully.
The bandy-legged giant and the lowering, hyena-headed demon both made menacing gestures toward the cambion as he uttered this rejection. A wave of menacing thought flowed from Zuggtmoy, and a soft warning from Iggwilv checked all of them. Graz'zt frowned slightly but then smiled and spoke again.
"Son and Prince of Oerth, be not alarmed at My demand," he said in what passed for a soothing voice. "It is most reasonable. Remember that had I not assisted, you never would have come as far as you have. The object-"
"Is one which I wrested from peril with Dear Queen Zuggtmoy's aid," interjected Iggwilv. Ignoring the scowl that came over Graz'zt's countenance, the great witch added, "As mother of Iuz, I must have full right in deciding the disposition of the… item in question."
"That's right, dear," gurgled Zuggtmoy. "Don't let that stupid male push you around."
"Stupid?!" roared the black demon prince, barely able to control himself.
Iggwilv was not impressed by his outburst. "It is stupid to ask Our offspring for a tool you know he needs for the little things he still must do," she pointed out.
Graz'zt gritted his fangs and said, "Your choice of the word little is apt indeed, Iggwilv. There is a question of whole planes at stake, and you and that amorphous pile of- "
"I'll show you just how amorphous you can be!" Zuggtmoy boomed as she grew in the space of two seconds into a massive fungoid shape resembling an oliphant. Even as she did so, a pool of glistening slime began to come into being, gathering at her pseudopodial extremities.