Cadmus Craven's Rug - Part One
“To the primary and fundamental purpose of maintaining cosmic balance we are called. Awakened to our fundamental identity as units of the Cosmic Person, granted power beyond the ken of mortals, let us never be remiss. Never shall the forces of Chaos overmaster the forces of Order. Never shall THAT WHICH BREAKS overcome THAT WHICH MAKES. To this duty we swear, and give our dying breath.”
- Excerpt from the founding charter of the League Of Apostolic Nobles
At the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers, where gangs of vicious nomads frequently made war upon each other, there rose a magnificent palace in the shape of a wing-spread raven. And in the highest of the palace work-rooms, situated in the raven's left eye, was a desk of stained mahogany on which rested an apparatus containing a planet of miniscule proportions. On the surface of this planet, known simply as 'Miniscula' by the people who resided there, was the capital city of Morelos, and it was here, in the guise of a feathered sun-god, that Cadmus Craven liked to spend his time.
On the morning in question, made cool and balmy by his adjustments to the planet's atmosphere, Cadmus was enjoying the company of a vestal virgin in the grandest of the many grand temples dedicated to his name. His performance was just reaching its peak when it was interrupted by a series of door-knocks whose urgency evidently exceeded his own. Sweat-drenched, cursing and gasping, the Lord Craven dressed himself once more in the guise of the sun-god and threw open the door.
“This had better be good.” He growled in a voice like far-off thunder, causing the eyes of his mask to flash ominously.
The world-president wrung his hands as he made the obligatory genuflections. At his back, the planet's head priest was equally pensive.
“A disaster of monstrous, possibly cosmic proportions has struck the people of Miniscula, my Lord Craven. We beg of you to assist us.”
Cadmus took a wistful glance at the artfully discomposed form still panting upon the bed. Then he turned back to the world-president with a sigh.
“All right, then. I'll take a look.”
Outside, the capital's grand plaza was empty but for a cordon of marines and the crowd of officials whose expressions spoke of unprecedented crisis. Using the four power-rings he'd inherited from his father, Cadmus caused a disc of pulsing energy to appear and, under the directions of the world-president, piloted the officials to the scene of the disaster.
“Ah, yes.” He said, eyeing the landscape over which they came to hover. “I see the problem.”
Below, a country once famed for its rural wholesomeness and rich soils had been transformed into a reeking swamp. Weird, belching noises rose from the morass, which was decaying before Cadmus' eyes; as he watched, mounds of clay-like substance rose up, revealing themselves as an endless army of golems as they turned to belch a weird chorus:
“The League will respond! Adrammelech demands your assistance!”
Adrammelech? Cadmus screwed up his face in recollection.
“My Lord, you understand the meaning of these words?” The world-president asked urgently.
“Somewhat.” He replied. “How long has it been like this?”
“The change occurred about three hours ago. The Pharisees have consulted the texts: they say it is a sign that the end times are upon us.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Cadmus replied vaguely. “Hmm. I've heard of this 'Adrammelech' – a demon of the infernal pits. Although why he would do this to Miniscula is beyond me...”
At that moment the planet gave a tremendous jolt. It span off its axis, causing tsunamis and earthquakes, plunging towns and cities into chaos as millions were crushed beneath falling buildings.
“Christ!” Cadmus roared over the cries of the officials. “All right, don't panic – I'll sort this!”
As he spoke, he touched a finger to the ruby ring that adorned his pinky: this caused the disc to whirl safely back to the hills surrounding Morelos. At the same time, he touched the malachite ring of his index finger, repulsing the gravity of Miniscula and adjusting the distance between the atoms of his being; in this manner, he flew free of the planet's atmosphere while rapidly returning to his original size.
His slippered feet touched down on the antique Persian rug of his work-room. Behind him, the magic mirror he had received from the League Of Apostolic Nobles was loudly bellowing a summons.
“THE LEAGUE IS CALLED TO ORDER!” The mirror shrieked. “ALL MEMBERS ARE TO REPORT TO THE PALACE OF DISTILLED CLARITY!”
It was this that was causing the apparatus containing Minuscula to vibrate alarmingly across the surface of the desk. It lurched forwards, teetered at the edge. Cadmus cursed, throwing himself forwards just an instant too late-
The apparatus fell and struck the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces. Bouncing free from its berth, Miniscula rolled away across the rug, leaving its oceans and billions of dead Minisculites sinking into the antique shag.
“Oh Jesus, God, no!” Cadmus wailed; a moment later a decanter of wine tumbled from the desk, adding its contents to the scene of the holocaust.
Shmoop, the Cravens' venerable manservant, entered the room some moments later to find his master grey-faced, the feathers of his costume drooping as he tried each of his rings in turn in an attempt to rescue the planet and his rug.
“My Lord, something terrible has happened!” The majordomo shouted over the wailing of the magic mirror. “The territory of Nebraska-”
“-has been transformed into a shrieking swamp.” Cadmus finished glumly. “Yes, I think it's probably happening everywhere, Shmoop. Look – I don't suppose you know how to get red wine out of a rug? Or repair a broken planet? I'm struggling a bit here-”
It was true. Although they granted almost unlimited control over the fundamental forces of the universe, the power-rings Cadmus had inherited from his father, Lord Adamantus Craven, were, like any tool, only as good as their user. And Cadmus, having never expected to inherit ahead of his three brothers, had not bothered to learn their use before his parent had died of an aneurysm. The truth was, although he had made good inroads into unlocking the rings' secrets these past two years, Cadmus Craven often struggled to make his morning coffee levitate across the breakfast table.
“All right, just do what you can to get the stain out.” He sighed, causing the wine and billions of corpses to fall back into the pile as he turned towards the mirror. “I'd better go and see what they want.”
At his touch, the mirror emitted a series of pulses that seemed to encompass all angles of space, time and thought; these formed a corridor through which Cadmus fell headlong, to emerge in a bellowing heap in the receiving hall of the Palace of Distilled Clarity. A row of mirrors stretched along the hall, beneath which cursing figures were picking themselves up to straighten out their elaborate costumes. At the foot of a sweeping staircase was the tall figure of Madame Zephyr, the palace's mistress, an expression of serene self-importance on her face as she rapped her summoning rod against a clam-shell mirror.
“And Craven makes thirty-five.” She said crisply, setting the mirror down and gesturing towards a doorway. “If you'd all like to take your places, the meeting shall begin at once.”
One by one the thirty-five members of the League Of Apostolic Nobles trooped into the palace ballroom and took their seats.
At the head of a table of marble and gold sat Madame Zephyr and the five Archmagisters and Magisters of the League's first order, each with a personal servant on hand. Here were the most powerful magicians in existence: high and mighty Lords of Creation, barely a hair's breadth lower than the universe's many gods, demons and angels, sharing all of their zeal and little of their senility. Foremost among them was Madame Zephyr, the League's current Ipsissimus and undisputed master, seated at the table's head. Tall, neat and of apparently indeterminate age, the Ipsissimus radiated a power and vitality born of magical mastery and centuries of enterprise. To either side of her were the League's two Archmagisters, both highly potent personalities in their own right: to one side was Haldern Sylverne, a haunted, hungry-eyed master of the hidden arts who watched the Ipsissimus' every move with a closely guarded mania; on her other side perched the cunning features of Gloriana, Queen of Owls, a demiurge whose origins were lost beneath the weight of long millennia, just as her sharp-boned form was lost beneath the mass of wreaths, ruffs and talismans with which she draped herself. Immediately below these three were the League's three Magisters: the juniors of the first order, whose eyes followed their betters with the silent and watchful hunger of long ambition.
Next in power and position, seated at the table's broad central section, was the League's Zealator and the ten Thaumuses and Archmaguses of the second order, currently grumbling into glasses of wine served by multi-limbed automatons. This group, although far less powerful than their chiefs, were nonetheless all remarkable individuals, each bearing a hard-won air of competence, cynicism and grandeur.
Finally, at the table's narrow far end, the eighteen Maguses, Adeptuses and Neophytes of the League's third and least order crowded, their grand costumes clashing as they squabbled over a trolley of paltry refreshments. Here were the untested rookies of the League, each the undisputed master of his own realm, yet paltry of power and influence by comparison to the higher orders. It was to this last group that Cadmus belonged, the second most junior member of the League, sandwiched between the dreamy figure of Babblebrook The Cosmic Troubadour and the stern beauty of the Empress Jian Jishei.
After a few moments of chaos and loud complaints, Madame Zephyr rose and called the meeting to order.
“Greetings all! As you are no doubt aware, bizarre circumstances face us! The demon Adrammelech demands our assistance, perverting the very laws of nature to gain our attention. It is to discuss our response to this that I have called you here today.”
“The only matter worth discussing is Adrammelech's punishment!” Groaned a voice like the hinges of a crypt gate from the table's centre. “His prank has rendered some of my prime burial grounds worthless!”
“Aye, and where did that little stain get the wherewithal to perform such a working, anyway?” Growled the personality opposite, a red, humanoid figure with the furious eyes and merciless jaws of a sea-dragon. “The last time I had dealings with him was to bind the mule-headed burke into a cleaning contract on one of my sub-realms. Now he suddenly has the gall to fill the sub-realms up with screeching mud-men? I motion that he be made to suffer for it!”
The speakers had been Nicodemus of Karst, a Thaumus and potent necromancer, and Kung The Impmaster, the League's Zealator. Their remarks unleashed a general upswell of anger as the other members of the League all shouted their complaints at once.
“Transformed my beautiful aviary into a nightmare!”
“Fabulous cliffs – the purest of ebony – reduced to a stinking dung-heap!”
“My finest micro-continent – thousands of rare beetle species – ruined in an instant!”
“Compensation! I demand punishment and compensation!”
All had felt the sting of Adrammelech's working. All had suffered damage to their respective domains. Wine sloshed freely and the strength of the marble was tested by many a blow. At the far end of the table, Cadmus sat patiently, awaiting the proper moment to bring his complaint.
Finally, Madame Zephyr was forced to make use of the Attenuating Silence spell-effect.
“Yes, yes – all of us have suffered damages on Adrammelech's account.” She spoke over the restrained resentment of the company. “The demon will be punished for it and his accounts paid in full, have no fear. However, the situation goes somewhat beyond mere theatrics. Encoded within the apparently simple croakings of the golems is a more complex message – an audio-visual codex enmeshed within the harmonics. Thaumus Caye has kindly brought an apparatus capable of deciphering the message. If you would oblige us, Prince-?”
This was Caye, Exile-Prince of Elfland and a favourite of the Ipsissimus: a handsome yet dour aristocrat about whom an air of impenetrable tragedy hung. Standing, the dispossessed prince gave a slight bow and produced a machine of intricate design from within a pocket of his silken brocade. The League leaned forwards in anticipation as a globe of milky light leapt into being above the marble tabletop.
Colours swirled and sloshed. Madame Zephyr caused the blinds to fall with a snap of her fingers and a weird image was revealed: a powerfully muscled figure with the head of a mule and the tail-feathers of a peacock seated on a throne of blood, its unfeasibly large gonads dangling almost to the ground.
“Greetings, oh league of eternal boredom!” The demon intoned, his testicles vibrating with each word. “I trust I now have your undivided attention. You will forgive the peremptory nature of my summons, however I have pressing work for you. Behold: the Caduceus and Rose galaxies, currently intertwined in the cosmic dance!”
The view changed. A pair of star-clusters were shown: a swirl of reddish-brown gases flowing presumptuously into a magnificent green cloud; as the League watched, the vision expanded to focus on a pair of star-systems moving rapidly towards each other at the heart of the collision. Next flashed an image of black-uniformed troopers goose-stepping beneath streaming red banners; this was followed by the image of a throne-room populated by a race of green crystals, their surfaces flashing brilliantly as they communicated in pulses of pure thought.
“You see here two deadly enemies: the First Empire of Kadmon, of which I am honoured to be the principal deity, and the culture-stack of the Thrival, a race of crystalline gaylords sworn to the service of my mortal enemy, the Archangel Haniel. Just as Haniel and I stand locked in eternal struggle, so the two races struggle interminably, neither side able to gain the upper hand. This is where you come in! Somehow the tree-hugging Thrival have succeeded in harnessing one of the primary emanations, and as a result, they now possess a weapon known as the 'Green-Ray': an artefact capable of emitting a beam of pure, concentrated passion. Should the Green-Ray be brought to bear against my noble Kadmonites, the result would be unthinkable! Needless to say, this will not happen. You will infiltrate the prime temple of Thrival, recover the Green-Ray and present it to the Kadmonite High Command, turning the tide of war in my favour. A simple plan, and one well within your admittedly limited competence. However, be warned!” The demon growled with a wag of his finger as the view once again returned to focus on his magnificent figure. “I am no longer the lowly factotum who once cleaned your toilets! The worship of the mighty Kadmonites has swollen my power, placed me once again within the ranks of the Great Dukes of Hell! I have the favour of His Satanic Majesty, honoured to call myself the keeper of the Devil's wardrobe. Therefore, attend! I saw and heard much during my years of humiliating service to you, League of Swine! Nobody knows better than I your hollow words and hypocrisy! You all have blood on your hands, and though you have worked hard to hide your crimes, it would take but a few words in my master's ear to send each of you plummeting into the deepest of the infernal realms! League of Apostolic Nobles! Recover the Green-Ray and present it to my Kadmonites. Do this, and I shall call us quits. Fail, or try to cheat me, and you will all suffer a fate beyond imagining. I trust I need not repeat myself. Adrammelech has spoken! Over and out!”
The image cut out and silence reigned once more. For a few moments the League members stared at one another, each privately considering his numerous crimes and wondering how many of them the demon was aware of. Only Cadmus was unaffected. At the end of the table he sat quietly, reflecting on several of the more interesting features of the recording.
Finally, Kung The Impmaster rose to his feet, his leathery neck-frills audibly vibrating. He stood for a moment looking furiously over the company, then smote the table a sudden blow.
“Outrageous!” He roared, his neck-frills trembling with rage. “First Adrammelech dares to despoil my sub-realms and now he thinks to blackmail the League? No! I won't stand for it! I demand that we respond immediately with a show of force! Let us raise our banners, march upon the demon's domain! With my imps at the forefront, the Kadmonites will be crushed and Adrammelech's power broken! Then I'll seize the wretch myself and bury him up to his neck in the universe's deepest, darkest pit of shit and despair until the stars grow dim!”
Up and down the table the League members looked at each other warily. On the one hand, the Zealator offered a simple and satisfying solution to their problems. On the other hand, all knew the weight of their own crimes, all guessed at the crimes of their adversaries, and all wondered silently how punishment might be brought down upon the others without harming themselves. Only Cadmus did not look up. Instead he played with his ruby ring, considering the deft motion with which Prince Caye had purposely skipped over the first portion of Adrammelech's message. His eyes narrowed as he recalled the demon's opening words: “I trust I now have your undivided attention.”
At the head of the table, Madame Zephyr rose once more.
“Thank you, Zealator.” She said simply, motioning the reluctant Kung back into his seat. “You are of course correct. Adrammelech's threats – nasty, baseless threats, with absolutely no grounding in reality – must be met with punishment. However, it seems to me that the situation is a complex one. The war between the Kadmonites and the Thrival presents a clear threat to the cosmic balance we are sworn to preserve, and it is this that must be our first consideration. Should the Kadmonites prevail – should Adrammelech gain advantage over Haniel – both galaxies will be thrown into disorder, suffocated by the demon's fascist impulses. On the other hand, Haniel has also acted irresponsibly in allowing the Thrival access to this Green-Ray. Should it be used to impose its matrix of passion on the Kadmonites, they would become as sensitive and overwrought as Haniel's subjects. Both outcomes threaten to pervert the evolution of sentient life. We must therefore proceed carefully!”
At her right side, Haldern Sylverne roused himself.
“Well spoken, Madame Ipsissimus.” The Archmagister spoke with ponderous guile. “As you say, the demon's threats are essentially baseless. We see that his war against Haniel is deadlocked and he appeals to us out of desperation. If I might make an observation, there is a simple and elegant solution to this: let them remain deadlocked. We need do nothing.”
A ripple of unease flowed up and down the table at this. Only Babblebrook The Cosmic Troubadour, the newest and most innocent of the League members, smiled and nodded in agreement.
“You cannot be serious, Haldern.” Gloriana, Queen Of Owls, spoke in husky tones through her mane of ruffs. “Your fatalism clouds your mind. Events of such importance must not be left to chance. The League is obliged to act. Madame Ipsissimus, you have a plan?”
The Ipsissmus leaned forwards to place her hands on the table.
“I do. Adrammelech must be brought to justice for his crimes, his power broken, whilst ensuring that the Kadmonites and the Thrival remain in balance with neither side gaining the upper hand. In order to ensure this, I propose that the Kadmonites be weaned from the worship of Adrammelech and their war-efforts sabotaged. Adrammelech will then be weakened, that we may deal with him as we see fit. Finally, the Green-Ray must be confiscated from the Thrival in order to prevent Haniel from – yes, Haldern, what is it?” The Archmagister gave the slightest of bows.
“Ipsissimus, with all due respect, to dabble in such matters as do not concern us would impact the balance just as much, if not more, than if we were to take no action. There is no reason to meddle in this war, and especially no reason to meddle in Lord Haniel's affairs...”
The Archmagister continued in this vein for long moments as Cadmus watched and listened carefully. It appeared the fatalistic Haldern was fighting a losing battle. For every remark he made, Gloriana, Queen Of Owls, offered a firm rebuttal, followed swiftly by the eager outrage of Kung The Impmaster, whose allergy to inaction and obvious dislike of the Archmagister drove him further and further towards apoplexy. Finally the table gave way beneath the Impmaster's blows, necessitating a brief pause in the argument while the Ipsissimus made repairs. The three logograms of Remora's Restorative Ray rent the air; a network of glowing lines appeared above the break, anticipating its motions as the edges settled back together. There was a general sigh of relief at this symbolic act. Then Haldern leaned forwards once more and spoke reasonably:
“We must not risk inciting the displeasure of the dark powers by taking the demon's punishment into our own hands. Lord Asmodeus is jealous and he will not take kindly to presumptuous behaviour in dealing with one of his favourites. Whatever else we do, I propose that evidence of Adrammelech's crimes be brought before the Evil One, his judgement politely requested. Aught else is foolishness.”
Kung The Impmaster almost bit his tongue in half at this. Madame Zephyr and Queen Gloriana were forced to press their lips together and the rest of the League could only blink in confusion. However, the Archmagister had scored a vital point and none could say a word against this frustratingly reasonable suggestion.
“Very well. Our plans are set!” The Ipsissimus said shortly. “The Kadmonite war effort will be sabotaged, the demon's hold on them broken. The Green-Ray will be confiscated and brought under the League's protection. And finally, Adrammelech's crimes will be referred to His Satanic Majesty, whose judgement will hold sway. Let us waste no more time in disputes!” She added as Haldern cleared his throat. “The League will vote. All in favour?”
“Aye!” Came the majority of voices, the Zealator's among the loudest.
“Nay.” Spoke Haldern in tones of resignation. At the centre and far end of the table, a handful of figures eyed the Archmagister carefully, Cadmus among them. Having deduced the League's fault-lines and taken careful note of prevailing conditions, he now straightened up in anticipation of the window of opportunity that was rapidly approaching.
“Very good.” The Ipsissimus remarked crisply. “We will proceed as follows: The third order will handle the sabotage of the Kadmonite war effort and the breaking of Adrammelech's power. My three Maguses, Zlot, Narcissa and Eliphas – formulate a plan among yourselves and each take a team of Adeptuses and Neophytes. This is a most important task – consider it a chance to impress me.” She paused to smile in turn at the three Maguses – each was in fact a student of Logogramic magic, trained by the Ipsissimus herself – before turning her attentions to the table's centre. “Zealator Kung – you and the second order will manage the confiscation of the Green-Ray. Infiltrate the Thrival's prime temple and whisk the weapon away, leaving a replica in its place. The artefact will be safest here, in the palace undervaults.” Haldern began to remonstrate at this, but the Ipsissimus swiftly overrode him. “Once these objectives are secured, the first order will accompany me to the infernal realms, where we will lay our charges before Lord Asmodeus – Adrammelech will be too weak to intervene by that point. Assuming all goes smoothly, the cosmic balance will be restored and Adrammelech returned to toilet-cleaning duties. Well then. If there is nothing else-?”
It was at this moment that Cadmus chose to act. Rising swiftly from his chair, he caught the Ipsissimus' eye, glanced at the Elvish projector still resting on the marble tabletop, then returned his gaze to the Ipsissimus with a slight bow.
“There is one small matter, Madame Ipsissimus.” He spoke with pointed politeness. “A matter of damage to my personal property.”
“We have all suffered damage at Adrammelech's hands.” The Ipsissimus spoke quietly, her expression unreadable.
Cadmus gave a slight bow; as he did so, his fingers brushed the ruby ring of his pinky, causing the projector to tremble slightly. Madame Zephyr grew pale.
“What is the nature of your complaint, Neophyte Craven?”
“The magic mirror you had installed within my palace, Madame Ipsissimus, has proven somewhat troublesome.” Cadmus replied crisply. “This morning's summons was of such vigour that the acoustics caused the destruction of an irreplaceable apparatus and also spilled wine across my favourite rug. Since the damage was caused by League property, naturally I submit the matter to yourse- ARGHHH!”
The Ipsissimus had licked her lips and leaned forwards, apparently on the point of promising Cadmus exactly what he wanted. However she was prevented from speaking by Kung The Impmaster, who had chosen that moment to attack the Neophyte in a paroxysm of rage.
“CRAVEN!” The Impmaster screamed, leaping the table in a single bound to send Cadmus tumbling from his seat. “You dare harass the Ipsissimus with these petty whinings? Your insolence is breath-taking – as are my hands!”
Stepping forwards, Kung clamped Cadmus' throat in an iron grip and hauled the struggling Neophyte into the air. At the table, the League watched with a mixture of horror, amusement and macabre interest.
“Neophyte, your actions represent a breach of League doctrine and good manners! Also, I find your attitude and general demeanour offensive.” The Impmaster snarled, his nostril-slits quivering. “In short, you have upset me. As the League's Zealator, I am responsible for enforcing discipline. I therefore propose to take you to my keep on sub-realm five for a refresher course in etiquette. Madame Ipsissimus, what say you?”
“Put him down, Kung.” Archmagister Haldern spoke hoarsely.
“Ah-” said Madame Zephyr.
The Ipsissimus had taken advantage of the distraction to send a telepathic message to Exile-Prince Caye, who now sidled quickly towards the projector. Seeing this, and feeling his windpipe begin to collapse beneath the Zealator's grip, Cadmus desperately tapped his ruby ring-
The projector leapt from Caye's outstretched hands to land squarely in the centre of the table where it came to life, pouring a stream of lurid holograms onto the air. The League gasped in astonishment as the Prince sent glasses flying, madly scrabbling across the tabletop-
A desert landscape of pale yellows, pinks and golds across which a train of slaves were being led, the grim figure of Prince Caye seated on horseback at their forefront-
A city encased in walls of glowing force burned beneath the calm gaze of Narcissa Khan and Eliphas Levi. The Maguses watched the destruction from the observation deck of a zeppelin, a dozen logograms dancing at their fingertips-
Kung The Impmaster was caught mid-gesture, his face bloated with cruelty as he oversaw the torture of a high-priestess, his fingers gesturing obscenely as his imps inserted objects into the woman's body-
An image hung for the merest instant, not quite coming into focus before the projection was abruptly halted. A distorted, ghostly face hovered on the air as tiny staves rose and fell below it, Kung's imps bellowing as they smashed the projector to pieces. The image swiftly faded, although all noted the resemblance it had born to the Ipsissimus.
For a few moments the room was silent but for the sounds of destruction. Almost nobody took any notice as Cadmus crawled towards the doorway. Nobody except Archmagister Haldern, who watched the retreating Neophyte with a mixture of surprise and interest. Reaching the hallway, Cadmus fished his father's antique transceiver from a cloak pocket and tapped its surface until the features of Shmoop appeared.
“Lord Craven?” The majordomo spoke in polite surprise. “Has something happened?”
“The rug, Shmoop.” Cadmus croaked. “The rug and the planet. Shrink them down with Dad's old minisculating ray and send them through the mirror. I'll fix them myself.”
The old servant sighed.
“Very good, My Lord.”
From the ballroom the bellows of Kung The Impmaster echoed, providing a solid baritone to the shrill tenor of Prince Caye and the two Maguses.