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Oddwords

[Published at 2024.06.18.] [2202 words]

Lunar Eclipse

Light slowly flooded into the dark room as the rusty metal gates slowly parted. It was already uncomfortably warm in the antechamber outside, but the heat inside was almost boiling. Margaret peered inside in disgust, the many flabs of her already-sagging body squelching from the sweat. She reached forward and pressed a button on her harness with a grunt. The railing on the ceiling whined as a pitiful engine began to propel her forward slowly, bringing the chair-bound Queen deeper and deeper into the vile sanctum in front of her.

While the room’s heat was intolerable already, the smell too was utterly repulsive. Margaret gagged; not even her nicotine rotted mouth could filter out the stench of sanitizer mixed with whatever repugnant concoctions the Royal Scientists mixed up to keep Her alive.

Yes, Her. Even after so many years, Margaret couldn’t help but avoid saying her great-grandmother’s name, even in her mind. She may have struck fear into the hearts of many, but the elder matriarch was one of the few beings, who managed to give her a taste of her own medicine.

And yet, on the day of her coronation, after so many years of scheming and backstabbing, murder and trickery, she had to face Her as one final challenge. Margaret glanced at the machine in front of her. Not even the pounds of makeup on her creased face could hide the mix of revulsion and fear she felt as she beheld the slowly opening cryochamber in front of her.

It was the one shining spot in a den of filth and oily machinery. A gargantuan white metal tube, with a panel in its front that slid neatly away to reveal a curved glass pane behind, allowing whoever was unfortunate enough to look inside the displeasure of seeing its occupant.

“Great-Grandmother Gertrude,” Margaret whispered in reverence and the grub-like body stirred inside. Decades of frost flaked off the awful body as it began to slowly undulate and wiggle. Curdled blood began to flow in its arthiritic veins, while boundless teeth chattered in the circular hole of what could be best described as the head of the matriarch. Finally, the ten eyes that crested this horrid maw snapped open, focusing immediately and intently on the new-fangled Queen.

“Maggie?” the monstrosity croaked half-asleep, before coughing up a stream of yellowish-green phlegm, which flowed freely out of her mouth and across her body, before diseappearing into a hidden drain below. “You look like shit.”

Margaret averted her eyes and reached into a small pouch under one of her folds, her hand returning with a cigarette and a small lighter. She fumbled with the device, trying desperately to avoid needing to answer.

“Margaret,” Gertrude said once more, this time a little clearer, but also a lot sharper. “Has your brain already gone soft? You will not smoke in front of me.”

“Of course, Great-Grandmother. Sorry, Great-Grandmother,” Margaret replied sheepishly as she slammed the cigarette back into the pouch, suddenly feeling a lot more like a princess-grub again and not the three-ton powerhouse she was. “I.. came. As per tradition.”

“Shut up. I know why you’re here.” Gertrude’s many eyes constricted as they beheld her great-granddaughter. “So, you’re the one who managed to survive, huh?”

“Yes, Great-Grandmother.”

“Disappointing. I was hoping it’d be one of your sisters.” The matriarch wheezed a sigh. “But, I suppose you must’ve some guts if you’re standing in front of me.”

Margaret gulped drily, her throat feeling like she swallowed a hundred needles. “Thank you, Great-Grandmother.”

“Well, as much as I’d love to celebrate your ascension by reminiscing of old times—” Margaret forced herself to stay still, even though her entire body wished to shudder at the mention of the past “—I’m not really interested in wasting my moments on you. We’ve just two things to talk about. First, how’s business?”

The Queen allowed herself a small smile, she was sure to break the ice with this one. “Good, Great-Grandmother. I managed to hike up prices by 60% last-quarter.”

“Useless! That’s not nearly enough. More. More. More.” With each “more”, Gertrude’s eyes burned harsher and harsher with greed. “You will squeeze and clamp down until you double the Cartel’s profits each and every single quarter.”

Margaret shrunk back a little, the motor enabling her mobility struggling to accomodate the sudden movement. “B-but, Great-Grandmother, that’s not… there’s simply not enough resources—”

“Silence!” Gertrude snapped towards her. “I will have my slaves feed you your whole brood if you defy me.”

A heavy silence descended on the room, broken only by the quiet murmurs of machinery and the wheezing, hacking coughs of Gertrude.

“I understand, Great-Grandmother,” Margaret finally said. “It shall be done.”

“Hah, so you do have a sliver of a brain. Keep at it, girl, you might even one day make me not hate you.”

Margaret scowled inside. For a moment she considered storming outside, repercussions be damned, but she was so excruciatingly close to victory. She would only need to endure this ancient harpy for a few more minutes before she went back on ice and then nobody would stand between her and the throne.

“Well, not that you have a choice either way. My trustees will make sure you meet my goals or else,” Gertrude continued nonchalantly, before twisting in the tube, smearing a bit of slime on the glass as she brought her ‘head’ closer. As she wormed her way into a new position, the door suddenly slammed shut behind Margaret, trapping her between the heat and a monster.

“However, that’s not the main thing I wanted to talk about,” Gertrude’s voice suddenly dropped a lot quieter and, to Margaret’s utter shock and disbelief, almost fearful. “Now listen here and listen good, I don’t know what treachery and strategic crap you used to get this far, but you better have your wits about you, little upstart, or you might just doom us all,” she snarled as she finished her words.

“I… I promise, Great-Grandmother, that I—”

“Shut up, just shut up. I’ve been awake for far too long already to listen to your insincere groveling and I’m not finished. Now, promise me, girl, that the words I’m about to say will not leave this room. Not a word to your children, not a word to the Conglomerate, nor to the Cartel, and not even those blasted, rotten Investors.”

For the first time, Margaret’s eyes glinted and her greed shone through her fear. She was about to hear something she could forge into a true advantage for herself. Something befit only a, no, the Queen. She opened her mouth and began to answer, almost too eagerly.

“Of course, bu—”

PROMISE ME,” Gertrude’s booming voice nearly cracked the glass pane as she screamed. A machine nearby began to loudly hiss, flooding the tube with cooling agents to cool the matriarch’s burning body down.

Margaret took a ragged breath, suddenly feeling cold in the chamber’s inferno. She remained silent for a few seconds, before quietly saying, “I promise, Great-Grandmother.”

“Good. I’m sure you’re aware of our old friends, the Mudokons.”

Margaret could not fathom how there could be anything related to that lesser species that would make Gertrude so terrified. “Yes, Great-Grandmother. We’ve still not managed to clear out their last remaining footholds, but it is only a matter of time.”

“Stupid girl, I don’t care in the slightest. They’re not the issue. They’ve never been the issue.”

“I… What do you mean then?” Margaret asked cautiously. “Aren’t we sworn enemies since the Great Humiliation?”

Gertrude convulsed inside the tube. A thick, slimy laugh erupted from her. “So you all think! And so we all thought. For generations and generations. But think, girl, and I’m willing to waste a few more of my precious minutes on you, because this is truly important. What’s our purpose? Is it to chase a stupid feud forever?”

“Profit and satisfying Investors?” Margaret replied like an automaton, hoping to impress the matriarch, but all she received in return was a disappointed scowl.

“No! No, you stupid whelp. That’s only the cover story. The allure of profit… yes, it’s in our blood. The blood we spilt was mostly to make ourselves more rich. But what is our final purpose?” Gertrude slammed her face against the glass, her eyes burrowing deeply into the gaping hole of Margaret’s soul.

“I… don’t know,” the Queen finally admitted.

“Freedom.” For a moment Gertrude’s spoke softly and delicately, like a newborn grub before her first Slaughter-fest.

“From what?”

Gertrude snickered bitterly. “That accursed Moon.”

“I don’t…”

“Of course you don’t! Listen! It was my own great-grandmother Yzolda, that bloated bitch, who first figured it out. I mean, it’s so obvious! What force could form a handprint on the Moon? Gods?” She let out a piercing cackle. “Let’s not be ridiculous. Three generations of the most powerful Court Occultists were spent on communing with the supernatural. We tried so hard to figure out what cosmic fuckup we had done to be deemed lesser. Why we’re unworthy.

“But, you see, while you can find all sorts of demons and spirits out there to do your bidding for a price, we had to come to a much crueler conclusion. We hailed and we hailed, as we explored all corners of the astral plane, but beyond those ghostly charlatans and little tree-hugging spirit-shits, there’s nothing. It’s all empty.” Gertrude unblinking eyes finally closed for a second as she winced in pain. “There’s no Great One out there, who doled out our punishment.”

“So then why?” Margaret whispered.

“Why indeed! We’ve turned to our only friend, science, and sent out probes. Turns out it’s not that big of a deal to put some instruments on a rocket and have it smash into a huge rock. We dug and sampled and crunched the numbers ten times over. There was nobody left alive, but me to talk about it, but believe it, girl, that we used the biggest brains those Vykker freaks could scavenge. Some days I wish we didn’t bother. That way at least we could live in blissful ignorance.” Gertrude laughed bitterly again. “That moon is no moon at all. Under a couple meters of rock, that rotten fucking orb is all flesh inside.”

Margaret stared wordlessly, while Gertrude paused to survive another coughing fit.

“There was some seismic activity too, that we recorded. Or so we thought, until somebody had a sudden idea and we sped up the recording. It was no mere shifting rocks. That moon, that thing, it was talking to us, in our very own tongue! And it talked of only one thing.” Gertrude shrunk into herself inside the tube. She almost whispered, as she continued. “Hate. That flesh hates us. Every single one of us and with burning passion. Glukkon, Mudokon, doesn’t matter, even the shittiest little Fleech them kids like to play waterboarding with. It wants nothing else but to see us suffer and die in as much pain and agony as possible. It seeks the perverse joy of limbs being ripped, eyes being gouged, of being burned alive, or ground into little bits. And it finds nothing more amusing that just by shifting its surface a little, it caused endless misery between us and the Mudokons.”

Gertrude twisted in her container again. This time she was the one to avert her eyes from Maggie.

“That’s why we’re here. Profit? Sure, it’s what keeps this slaughterhouse running. But no, we’re not here to please our Investors. We’re not even here to settle a score. We’re here to placate a Mad God, so that it doesn’t become bored and smash into us. I’m sure that bastard would survive laughing, while all of us would be wiped clean. We’ve tried so much. We’ve slowly moved all our cities below ground, we’ve became as cruel as can be, smeared ourselves in infants’ blood in depraved rituals. All to protect ourselves, while we figured out what to do. So far all it got us was a flimsy reprieve while we all toil as slaves to the whims of that meat.”

The matriarch gagged on her spittle, before turning once more towards Margaret.

“So, Maggie, congrats again about the crown. I hope this is what you wanted and I hope you’re ready. You will be the ruler in title, but you will not rule. You will meet my quotas and you will help me destroy that monster until either we succeed or you die as a cog in my machine. Because I will not let it outlive me. For now, increase profits and in a decade see me again.”

With each word, Gertrude became more and more sluggish as the freezing agents began to take hold, bringing the ancient being to a halt once more. Meanwhile the rusty doors slowly began to open. Margaret cast one final, mortified glance at the frozen hulk in front of her, before turning around and leaving silenty, the chamber falling dark behind her.

As she left, Gertrude’s voice echoed after her from the darkness one final time.

“Good luck, Queen. Don’t let us down.”

💡