File GSB-033: Sufferance

Griggin was sitting in the small office of the Chief Warlock of his circle. An unkind expression was on the Chief’s face. Griggin didn’t even know his true name. When dealing with fellow Warlocks, he went by the name of Sindala. Few people who weren’t Warlocks even knew that name. His face was partly hidden by a hood. The office was dark, lit only by a few candles in a chandelier. A dark place for dark business.

Griggin knew that, as Warlocks, they were walking the edge, not even between Good and Evil, but between the justifiable and the indefensible. It would be easy to say that Daemons were evil. Correct, perhaps, but insufficiently precise. Daemons regarded those in the world of the living, Gnome, Dwarf, Human, Elf, Orc, Tauren, as loathsome creatures. Cockroaches in the woodwork, to be exterminated if they became so arrogant as to make their presence felt. Warlocks were in the business of doing precisely that. Their defining characteristic was that they had the ability to summon the creatures from below, and control them. They were born with in their minds a connection to the shadow realms where Daemons lived. They could hear the whispers, frightening, never ending. Nobody became a Warlock because he wanted to. A child born with the makings of a Warlock was seen as a curse upon the family, and Griggin had never found a cogent argument against that. Paladins could protect and heal, as could Priests. Even Warriors could bolster the spirits of their fellows. All that Warlocks could do was cause harm.

But still, sometimes, even in the best possible worlds, there exists the need for the ability to do harm. The Alliance might see itself as the embodiment of the Light, but still, it could not afford to be ignorant of the shadows. If there were no Warlocks, willing to put their souls at risk to learn the harsh lore, then the shining ones would be defenceless against it. Though the fact was seldom mentioned, Warlocks’ help had been essential in the creation of the most powerful spells of cleansing used by Priests and Paladins. To fight the dark, one must look into it, take it apart to its basic components and see how they might be used against it. Warlocks walked those dark places, knowing that nobody could without being affected, tarnished.

To protect themselves, keep themselves from succumbing to the temptation of infinite power, Warlocks shielded themselves with rules. Rules to be followed to the letter, with harsh punishments if they were broken.

Griggin had broken one of the rules. It had not been one of the major ones, but still, he had broken it, knowingly and willingly. He looked up at the Chief Warlock.

“Griggin Steambender, you know why you have been summoned. You have threatened to use the Dark Arts against an unknowing one, and performed dark magic to do so.” Chief Warlock Sindala looked down on Griggin. “What have you to say for yourself?”

“Sir, I did so in order to extract my daughter from the situation she was in. Had I not done so, then she would have suffered more than she already has.”

“That is no excuse. You know as well as I know, that Warlock Circles are unwelcome wherever they grow. Compared to others, we have a good reputation. We are known to be helpful. We have assisted the Gnomes, and though they still despise us, they acknowledge our help. That reputation has taken years to build up, and even a single infraction can ruin it.”

“I am aware of that. I submit myself willingly to the consequences.”

The Chief nodded slowly.

“Griggin, you should have known better. I would not have expected this of you. What exactly did you do?”

Griggin sighed. “The Head Master of my daughter’s school was allowing a group of hoodlums to steal other people’s money. Violence was used against a number of the weaker students. My daughter was among the victims, until she finally would take no more. The boys were hospitalised and she received a caning. The head master then informed me that he would not allow me to remove my daughter from that school and continue to punish her for crimes real or feigned. I could not allow that to happen. So I used a shield to change my appearance somewhat, and persuaded the head master to sign the documents.”

“You succeeded in more than that. The head master is no longer in charge, and is facing several lawsuits. Perhaps that should have been your preferred course of action.”

“Perhaps, Sir.”

The Chief Warlock stood up, turned round. Griggin could see the glint of his eyes as he looked at Griggin over his shoulder.

“Normally, Griggin, the punishment for a transgression such as yours would be demotion, or even expulsion from the Circle. But I have an offer to make you.” He turned back to Griggin. “Another Warlock has transgressed more grievously than you have.”

Griggin’s face remained perfectly still, as he waited for the Chief Warlock to continue.

“One of our brethren has seen fit to summon a Succubus, restrain it with iron and pleasure himself with it.”

Griggin said nothing. This was a crime of the first order. It was the one thing that a Warlock must never allow himself to do. Succubi were the last word in sexual temptation. In combat, their mental attacks could reduce the fiercest of warriors to helpless creatures, so that they would simply stand there, waiting for the Succubus’ whip or the swords of its master’s allies to finish him off. There were accepted uses for these creatures, and then there were unacceptable ones. Daemons already suffered greatly from being summoned, though their honour would not allow them to comment on this. To be used for such purposes, compounded their suffering. The strict rule was never to touch a Succubus, at all. Even bumping into them by accident was a crime.

To complicate matters, any demon’s dream was to gain control of its master. An Imp might try to convince its master that it was a harmless little friend, and then plead and beg its way to freedom. Perhaps trick Master into setting it free, or into committing a small infraction against it, for which it could then demand reparations. Voidwalkers usually bore their fate stoically, but would take a terrible revenge if control slipped. Succubi… Well, there was one thing they excelled at, and they used their obvious appeal with great skill and subtlety. To fall to the charms of a Succubus, was to be lost completely.

This Warlock had fallen completely.

His life was over.

“Usually, Griggin,” said the Chief Warlock, “When a crime like this must be punished, we draw lots, and pray to what gods will still listen to us that the lot falls on someone else.” He sat down, and looked at Griggin from under his cowl. “If you will take this one voluntarily, then I will make this,” he pointed at the letters on his desk, “Go away.”

Griggin did not trust his voice. He took a few deep breaths, as the task before him became clear. He had to appease the Succubus. The Succubus would be appeased by only one thing. Suffering. But it was not enough to give the Warlock to the Succubus, skilled though it was in the administration of pain. One of the Warlock Circle must do the deed, as an extra punishment for allowing one of their number to abuse one of the Demonic creatures. This time, rather than draw lots, the task would be put into Griggin’s hands. He closed his eyes. It had been explained to him, when he joined the Inner Circle, that this might happen, and what would be expected of him. During his membership, he had known of only two other cases. He slowly opened his eyes and looked up at the Chief Warlock.

“I accept,” he said.


“And what gives you the idea that you can just slope off for a week, huh?” Marvin frowned. “We’ve got the design on the five-hundred to complete.”

“I must,” said Griggin. “I have a task to perform for the Circle. I cannot refuse it. That is why I had you put a clause in my contract regarding religious observances. This is one of those observances.”

“By the Light, Griggin, I thought that was attending services now and then, not a full week’s retreat.”

“The ritual will take only one or two days. The rest of the time, I require to recover.”

“Recover? What do you get up to?”

“Even if I could, I wouldn’t tell you. Look. I think the five-hundred prototype is nearly ready for commercialisation. All we need to do is get rid of a few rough edges. You can do that. When I get back, we’ll go over it.”

“Oh, alright then. But if I blow up the shop because you’re not here, it’ll be on your head.”

Griggin simply nodded, and said nothing.

 

“So tell me,” said Lenna. “What is this thing that you have to do?”

Griggin shook his head. “Warlock business. Ugly. I don’t want you to know.”

Lenna gave Griggin a sad look. “Aren’t you allowed to talk about it? You never keep secrets from me. I know you. You are a good Gnome. You are a wonderful husband. You are a wonderful father to our children. What can this possibly be, that you need to keep it from me?”

“Most of my Warlock business for the Circle falls under the non-disclosure agreement,” said Griggin, “But even if it wouldn’t, I would not want you to know. The knowledge would change you.”

“Bollocks,” said Lenna. “I didn’t marry just the nice side of you, Griggin Steambender. I know that you sometimes have to do things most people wouldn’t understand.”

“This is not like confessing a habit of smoking or abuse of non-recommended substances! I have to…” Griggin stopped himself, shook his head. “No. I will not say. I cannot say.” He looked up at Lenna. “Please. Don’t try to make me. Don’t ask. I won’t answer.”

“Ignorance is bliss?”

“Extacy. Believe me.”

Lenna sighed. She got up from the sofa, held out her hand to Griggin. He took it and she pulled him to his feet. She wrapped her arms round him, held him tight.

“You are a good Gnome, and I love you,” she said.

Griggin held Lenna to him, and tried to speak, but couldn’t.


All was ready. They were in a special room, deep underground. No daylight would ever come into this place. It was lit with torches on the wall, and the red glow of two braziers. On one end of the room were the witnesses. On the other was the Succubus demon. The condemned Warlock stood in the middle of the room, bound with chains, suspended from the ceiling. He was a Human, about the same size as the Succubus. The instruments had been prepared for Griggin, laid out on tables. Their uses had been explained to him. He would have to use them all.

The Chief Warlock read out the sentence, but Griggin didn’t listen. He stood to one side, staring ahead, preparing himself. The Chief Warlock stopped speaking. On the other end of the room, the Succubus stirred.

“Do not let him die too soon,” it said.

Griggin looked round.

“Infraction. Plaintiff is not to speak during the procedure, unless asked a question.”

The demon simply smiled. It was about to feast. Nothing could spoil its mood. Griggin’s eyes turned to the Chief Warlock, who nodded. He walked to the middle of the room, and placed his hand on the Human’s shoulder. The last kind touch he would feel in his life. Griggin took up the first instrument, and commenced.


Griggin was back in the Chief Warlock’s private office. As a concession to what had happened, a cup of tea was on the table in front of him. Griggin never drank tea.

“You have done well,” said the Chief. “The demon has returned to its demesne and balance is restored. I have already taken care of the complaint against you. The former Head Master will trouble you no more. All is well.”

Griggin looked up. Said nothing. It was three days ago now. He had slept maybe six hours in that time. His face was lined. More of his hair had turned grey. Since he had left the chamber, he had spoken no more than three words. He looked down on his hands. Closed his eyes. The images came back, and he opened his eyes again and looked at the teacup instead. Such an innocent object.

“I have conferred with the rest of the Circle. It was unanimously decided that your efforts more than offset your earlier infraction, and that has been destroyed. Your slate is clean.”

A surge of emotion passed through Griggin’s body, starting in his stomach. Strange. Griggin had always thought that feelings reside in the spirit, in the brain. It was the first time he felt emotions in his fists. Where, come to think of it, did emotions truly reside? Griggin looked up.

“Thank you, Sir.”

Chief Warlock Sindala put a hand on Griggin’s shoulder.

“Now go outside, and see the people of Gnomeregan. Realise that they are alive, and happy, and unhurt, because of what you did.”

“Yes Sir,” said Griggin.

 

He sat down in one of the inns, at the far corner of the bar, and asked for a strong coffee. The place was lit with gas candles behind slightly tinted glass, turning the light brown. It was busy. Griggin’s gaze passed over the people in the inn. A young couple was sitting at one of the small tables, looking only into each other’s eyes, whispering and smiling a lot. Four older people were playing cards, cups of tea and small glasses of port standing on the table next to the green baize playing cloth, stacks of cards neatly arranged. A bit further on at the bar were three Gnome lads, clutching pints of ale in their four fingered hands, talking too loudly. Griggin tried to imagine what the effect would be if an uncontrolled Succubus would enter this room and start lashing out. It did not bear thinking about. Griggin sipped his coffee. Clearly, he and the bar Gnome disagreed on what constituted strong coffee, but Griggin was in no mood for confrontation.

Warlocks had come a long way since the old days, when they would simply force Daemons to project themselves in the here and now, and do the Warlocks’ bidding. Horrible, horrible mistakes had been made. Many people, Human, Dwarf, Gnome or otherwise, had been killed as a result. Those dark years had been what gave Warlocks their bad name, among the Daemons as well as among the uninitiated. And rightly so. Only fairly recently had there been a shift in thinking, which had eventually resulted in the current state of affairs, where both parties, Warlocks and Daemons, knew that either of them could do a lot more harm, so let’s avoid that, shall we?

Griggin pushed away his coffee cup, half empty. He considered ordering something stronger than that, but numbing his mind with alcohol, he decided, was not what he needed. He looked up. Someone had spoken the word “warlock”. His eyes moved in the direction of the sound, and saw that it was one of the beer-drinking lads. He started to pay attention to what they were saying.

“Yeah. Dated a Warlock girl once. Not too long, gave me the creeps. I asked her to show me what she could do, and she wouldn’t.”

“Why anyone’d want to be a Warlock is beyond me,” said his mate.

“Well, at least you get a nice pet to play with. Wonder if you can make them the same size as a Gnome.”

“Heh. The way those girls are stacked, who cares? And she has to do everything you say. You may never get a normal girl again, but it has its perks.”

Griggin’s eyes filled with tears. The sheer stupidity of it. Idiots! Ignorant fools! All these hormone-drenched louts could see was a pair of… tits. Didn’t they see the horns? The hooved feet? The fangs, meant to tear and rend flesh? The long, cruel whip? The arsenal of spells that could utterly destroy someone? Succubi were weapons, for the Light’s sake, not, not… Sex toys.

“You alright Grandpa?” asked one of the lads.

Griggin took a deep breath. It was the first time in his life anyone had called him that. Ye gods, he must be looking dire.

“No,” he said. “I am not alright.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Heh,” one of the lads grinned. “Maybe he’s just realised what he should’ve done to get some action. Become a Warlock. Then, you can just make a girlfriend!”

Griggin’s dark eyes turned, glinting, towards the lad. Maybe a third his own age.

“I am a Warlock,” said Griggin, with that specific calm tone of voice that indicates that the other speaker has precisely twelve seconds to clear the blast area. “And you have no idea how stupid a remark you have just made.”

“Cor,” said another. “Show us yer demons, then. You know the one we want!”

Griggin scowled. “I cannot do that. The Daemon you refer to is called a Succubus, of Sayaad origin. They are summoned for combat only, and I have no wish to kill. But I can tell you what they will do to you. A Succubus will start with what they call a Soothing Kiss. It is not as pleasant as it sounds. It renders you unable to move. Then, they will wait a few moments, and with their whip take out your eyes so you cannot see where the next stroke will land. That whip is powerful enough to take off someone’s hand in a single stroke. Most people will wake up for a moment, then, and try to flee. Futile. It can move quicker than you, even if you still had your eyes. When you finally stop running round in circles, they will strike you again. They know every sensitive spot on the Gnome body. They generally save the genitals as a special treat to themselves. They will slowly introduce you to greater and greater amounts of pain, until you no longer have skin on you. That can take minutes, hours, days if the Daemon wants it. And all that time, you will be begging it, not to stop, but for another kiss.”

Griggin glared at the Gnome lad. “And that is just the beginning. I have seen creatures with all their skin stripped away, so you can see the muscles underneath. Still alive. I have seen what a Succubus can do when it is in a nasty mood, and they are always in a nasty mood.”

He fished in his pocket, slapped a few coins onto the bar and pulled his coat on. He made towards the door, and looked once over his shoulder. The boys were simply sitting there with their mouths hanging open. People round him were staring at him.

“When you see one of these creatures,” said Griggin, “Run.”


“Leave me alone!”

Trixie stared at her father. He’d never snapped at her like that before. He’d been gone a week, and to be honest, she didn’t think he’d really returned yet. He’d hardly spoken, not been in the mood for evening games, and had taken to returning to work after dinner.

“Dad?”

Trixie put a hand on her father’s arm. Griggin closed his eyes a moment, and looked into Trixie’s eyes.

“I’m sorry for snapping at you, Trixie. I have no excuse.”

“What happened to you, Dad? What did they do to you?”

Griggin sighed, tried not to look at his hands.

“Nothing was done to me. I have had to do,” he swallowed, “Terrible things. Please don’t ask me what. I don’t want to remember.”

Trixie said nothing for a while, simply looking at her father with blue eyes, and a serious expression on her face.

“Dad, they’re teaching us where all the major organs are in the bodies of Humanoids. That’s so we can kill them quicker, or put them out of action while keeping them alive, so we over-stress their healers. I’ve been practicing the best way to cut someone’s hamstring so they can’t run away, and the right strokes to cause bleeding wounds.” She took her father’s hand in hers. “We’re not nice people anymore, Dad.”

Griggin said nothing.

“You’ve had to execute someone, haven’t you, Dad?”

Griggin closed his eyes. Then, he nodded once.

“Well, I’m sure that person was better off with you doing it than someone else.”

Griggin looked up at his daughter. He put his arms round her, pulled her to him and held her. She didn’t start protesting for a long time. He looked into her eyes, and for the first time, smiled again.

“Thank you.”


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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