They talked long into the night, throwing hypothetical scenarios back and forth and letting them branch off into story exchanges on the subject of their respective speckled careers – Çrom Skelliglyph in staying alive, the Black Lotus in bringing lives to an end.
Even after it became apparent that she had nothing new to offer him aside from a couple of horrifyingly novel loopholes and means of redefining death in ways that would probably just annoy Nnal rather than outright defying Him, Çrom had to admit that even that much was impressive. He was surprised at how unexpectedly enjoyable he was finding the conversation.
Of course, they kept returning to a single unassailable sticking point.
“You were made this way by a Ghåålus,” the Black Lotus said. “That means that not only is infinite power required to even hope to break the curse, but infinite adaptability and creativity must be bent towards finding an escape method that cannot simply be unravelled or undone, or that has been accounted for in some infinitely imaginative way. Which is why I find myself resorting to the most monolithic solutions. You could, for example, kill the dread Ghåålus.”
“Oh I could, could I?” Çrom smiled.
The Black Lotus shrugged her angular shoulders with a slithery rustle. “It is obvious that your curse remains in place despite His imprisonment,” she said. “Clearly, some measure of His power still permeates the Corporation, if not the urverse. That makes sense, since the ten Infinites are the founding pylons on which creation rests, and imprisonment is not erasure. Removing one would topple reality and unreality alike.”
“You just said I could kill Him,” Çrom said in amused exasperation.
“Naturally, in doing so you would have to replace Him.”
“Naturally,” Çrom chuckled. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me there, Lotus.”
“I am calling on a particularly obscure tract in the Liber Tenebris,” the Black Lotus said, then shot him a glance that was equal parts apologetic and defensive. “A foolish name for what is actually a book of recipes and bawdy jokes,” she added.
“You’re looking for an answer to my problem in a humorous cookbook,” Çrom concluded flatly.
She raised an eyebrow. “Has such ever been attempted before?”
“I withdraw the comment.”
“The book speaks of Bharriom Mystics as Ghååla in retirement,” she went on, “a well-worn and long-discredited myth … but also of Ghååla grooming Their replacements for the next iteration of the great game. It was said of the dread Ghåålus that He might do so by elevating one of the Lapgods in His thrall, or else by tormenting one of His enemies to fill them with the same all-consuming hatred and destructive will that He Himself possesses.”
Çrom shivered, pushing down hard on a memory that bubbled and seethed unbidden towards the surface of his thoughts. Cold and vast and lonesome, it insisted on brain-space. And he denied it. “And you think that might be what’s happening here?” he asked, keeping his voice level.
“The earliest copies of the Liber Tenebris had panels from the Ballad,” the Black Lotus said. “The connection – and the implication – was not actually that difficult to draw.”
“Even if the thoroughly debunked myths of Ghåålus retirement and turnover were true, and even if it didn’t sound like a really long-term plan,” Çrom said, “it wouldn’t be helping me die, so much as become a different sort of eternal soul trapped in a miserable situation.”
“But with infinite power,” the Black Lotus said. “There are those who would envy you.”
“There are those who are morons,” Çrom retorted.
The Black Lotus didn’t seem upset by this. “Perhaps, upon supplanting the dread Ghåålus, you could immediately name a successor and finally meet your own end.”
“That … still seems like a long shot, as well as long-term,” Çrom said. “And how would I even go about killing a Ghåålus anyway? I don’t suppose that’s something you’ve ever been contracted to do.”
“I fear not,” the Black Lotus said. “Although the distance between killing a human cursed with eternal life by an Infinite, and killing an Infinite, is but a small step. It may in fact be no step at all.”
“A moot point if it’s an impossible step,” Çrom remarked. “If none of the other Infinites were willing or able to lift the curse placed on me, I doubt any of Them will be willing to help me try to kill the dread Ghåålus. Those sorts of confrontations are typically something They try to avoid, as it could lead to a perpetual conflict that would cancel Them both out…” he paused. “You’re not suggesting that’s what we try to do?”
The Black Lotus shrugged. “Perhaps another idea for the back pocket,” she said.
“Oh, I’ll grant you that,” Çrom smiled grimly. “It’s been there for a while already. Cancelling the dread Ghåålus out is basically one of the most foolproof ways of cancelling out my curse, after all. But it falls back on method number one of lifting the curse: another Ghåålus. And like I said, I’ve tried Them all.”
“And an entertaining tale it made,” the Black Lotus said. Çrom had told her as much as he remembered of each of his adventures seeking out the Infinites, and admittedly embellished the parts he didn’t remember particularly well. “Perhaps we can think of a way to get Their help without asking, you and I.”
“Sure,” Çrom snorted. “Maybe we could trick one of Them into flinging every scrap of Their infinite power at Him forever.”
“Maybe,” she replied, and Çrom found himself caught off guard all over again by how captivated he was by this dirty, scarred, malnourished spectre. “But there is another possibility. You yourself admitted that you have approached only nine of the ten Infinites.”
Çrom sighed. “Back to that again?”
“And why not?” the Black Lotus grinned. “Do not tell me you have explored every avenue, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph, if there is a highroad yet untravelled. Who better to release you from your cursed existence but the Ghåålus Who put you there in the first place?”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while carparkin’. Not in a sexy way.