Before he had time to think, he was heading through a moist thicket and down a hill. Brittle shrubs gave way to open ground, and a hollow in the land opened in front of him. It had contained some sort of folly, or perhaps a fane, but the stones were scattered and crushed into the surrounding mud and the ground churned up so thoroughly that the hollow’s bottom had become a wallow filling with creeping, soil-dark water.
In this modest bath sat an enormous being. A huge thing, a giant, stout as a trencherman whose greed had fattened its limbs to pillows and its stomach to a mattress, and whose head was as square and as squat as a cushion sinking gracelessly into shabby old furniture. Its skin was riven with cracks, plagued with sores, troubled with mites and wounds and dribbling rashes. Upon the chest the skin had decayed entirely, displaying greying muscle beneath. A great hole opened into the being’s chest cavity, where in the caves of its ribs little beings played and fought over scraps of rancid flesh, miniature versions of the giant they parasitised.
He had treated with these things, he had fought them, he had allied with them. They were capricious but jovial, laughing as they slew, chortling as they released their pathogens, and joyous all the more as mortal flesh blackened and ran. Not this one. This one sat with its face buried in pudgy hands so that its features were hidden and its horns hung miserably low.
He had never seen a daemon weep that way, and his curiosity overcame his caution.
‘O Daemon,’ he said, speaking the o, for together with d, a, e, m, o and n it made seven letters, and in seven there was power. ‘Why do you cry?’
The monster started. Not having heard him approach, the daemon was embarrassed to have its sorrow witnessed and endeavoured to hide it, flicking away tears of pus, clearing its throat and blinking rheumy eyes to clear them.
‘You have not heard of the woe of Khu’gath?’ it mumbled.
‘Khu’gath? I think I know that name.’
The creature cleared its nose into its hand with a long, foghorn blast, then pawed the resulting effluvia away onto its leathery hide. It wiped its runny eyes upon blubbery forearms and nodded earnestly.
‘You and I have fought together many times. We are allies you and I.’
‘I do not recall.’
Khu’gath shifted its bulk and the ground quaked. Its rotting septum quivered as it sniffed. ‘Ah!’ it said, realisation overcoming its misery. ‘That is because it is yet to happen. It will though, oh, it will. Time means nothing here.’
That made a sort of sense to him. ‘I see. In that case, we are friends.’
‘As much as we can be,’ agreed the daemon.
‘Then tell me, why do you weep, Khu’gath?’
Khu’gath folded its hands in its lap and stared at them. ‘Our master’s boon is the cessation of suffering. Fatalists, pessimists, realists, all who acknowledge the inevitability of woe will cease to be troubled by it should they embrace our grandfather. Our master brings joy. He releases us from sorrow.’
‘Yet you are not free of woe.'
‘True, true, all too true!’ Reminded of its misery, Khu’gath resumed its weeping.
Again Khu’gath swallowed back its sorrow. ‘The manner of my creation. Our lord was working in his manse,’ it waved one flabby paw vaguely towards the east, ‘creating the greatest plague that would ever be known. It was never released. I was a mite, a nurgling, a thing no bigger than your hand span. I fell within his cauldron and drank it dry. So potent was the brew that I swelled and swelled, becoming as you see me here.’
‘So our lord hates you?’
‘No, no, no!’ said Khu’gath forcefully, angered at this slight against their god. ‘Far from it. He loves me, and that makes it so much worse!’ It began to weep again.
‘I, too, brought sorrow on my father, but I am glad of it, for I hate Him.’
‘Then you are luckier than I. And though you have no father now, you have a loving grandfather.'
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