In the sweltering heat of the third moon, Falsallow carefully circled the ancient building, jug of liquor in one hand and cane in the other. The cane he held upside down, dragged its crystal tip in the dirt beside him so that it left a line, just barely perceptible in the low but harsh light. The earth shrank from the corruption contained in the crystal, and slowly billowed up in mounds on either side of the line, leaving a trough that widened as he went. He’d had most of the circle drawn before anyone inside saw him, and now there were many eyes on him (in addition to the third moon, the Oracle’s Eye itself), worried faces in the windows, silhouettes in the dim night moving nervously. Falsallow raised his jug to them, took a swig, hopped a couple quick steps to avoid being caught by the widening ravine.
Was anybody going to come out and try to stop him? He rather hoped they would. He wanted to ignore someone’s pleading, point his devastating crystal at them to hold them away. Or maybe let them come too close, and actually touch them with it. What would it do to a person? A person other than Falsallow himself, that is.
He took another drink. He was getting wobbly.
The building was enormous, and the only man-made structure within miles. Its many halls and wings and additions sprang out from the already massive original lodge, reaching out and then folding back in upon themselves like the arms of a dried octopus in the market. Once it had been the vacation home of a king, once the secluded laboratory of a wizard. For many years its aristocratic edifice had belied a run-down interior divided into sweatshops, where debt-slaves repeated incantations until they were too hoarse to sound the words properly, enacting and reinforcing any charm a wealthy countryman paid the house’s owners for. That was long before Falsallow had come to live there, but he’d always thought he could detect the odor of cruelty in it. Even before the strangers had come to take up residence.
The third moon seemed to be aiming its crater, the one that gave it the name, at him. He pointed a shaky finger at it and gave it some choice words. If the oracle were really watching, the grimy, troglodytic old prognosticator couldn’t possibly take issue. And if she did, then to hell with her, too. Because her Eye could see the strangers, could see their hushed meetings. Knew better even than he what they spent their mysteriously bottomless purses and catalogs of influence on.
They had to know what Falsallow was doing. Why didn’t anyone come to challenge him? He spat some curses at the shadows in the windows, but his goading didn’t seem to tempt them.
He completed the circle after a good hour, scoring the lip that surrounded his starting point, which was now the deepest part of the trough. The disgust of the dirt and fallen leaves at the touch of his cane was palpable. Roots curled away, some crackling and dying.
Lord Huer had trusted Falsallow with this crystal, given it to him as a gift after some grand job or other he’d done for the royalty. It had been implicit that the good Fell Lord expected him to keep it safe, locked up, unable to do any harm. The big red fellow had, after all, grabbed it during his escape from hell, maybe out of the dead hands of some demon he and his fellow rebels had killed on the way, or else some moldy old storeroom. Huer had worn it in his forehead, where he’d gouged out his own fifth eye to denounce hell below, and presented it ceremoniously. He’d made a speech about it, calling it a tool of hell’s worst minds, put over the centuries to increasingly vile use. Blessed – or something like it – Falsallow to guard him from its concentrated lattice of otherworldly death, so he could protect it or perhaps find a righteous use for it.
(Deathliness? Deathsomeness? Falsallow had had too much to drink. Not that he was going to stop.)
Well, he’d found the right use for it now. He skipped out of the way of the crumbling earth that increasingly cut his hallowed fief off from the rest of the land. His jug was empty now. He threw it in to the pit.
Someone shouted at him. Ah yes, one of the strangers had finally come out, now that there was nothing they could do. The shadowed figure – Falsallow could never really see these, not even in full light – pointed an accusing finger at him and spoke some unintelligible words, not quite foreign but still totally unfamiliar. Falsallow spat that he knew what the shadow person did, knew what all the shadow people did, had taken over his home to do. He visited other lands, saw them wasting away, saw the distrust his boarders sowed. Felt their hands in it, shaping minds and lives to evil ends. He’d had enough.
At the last, he jabbed the crystal at the man. It struck true in the not-quite-seeable chest. If it did anything, Falsallow couldn’t see it.
The stranger took hold of the cane and tore it easily from Falsallow’s trembling hand. With its earthly end, struck him in the face. Falsallow fell back, tumbled into the pit. Dazed, he did not try to scramble to his feet. The way the earth shifted and retreated beneath him, he could never have found purchase on it anyway.
The cane came in after him, for all the good it would do. He stared up, could see only stars and the highest gables of what was no longer his home. As the earth parted, the ravine became increasingly impassable, and he drifted farther and farther from hope of escape, he cursed the oracle for letting this happen. Still, let those shadowy interlopers try to get past this obstacle. Falsallow laughed, drunkenly, as the last gable disappeared behind the receding surface.